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Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Women have been joining the gig workforce at a rapid clip during the pandemic.

Why it matters: Gigs offer the flexibility that so many working women seek, but the jobs can come with low, unstable wages.

What's happening: Women have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic — both because they were overrepresented in hard-hit industries like hospitality and service, and because they were likelier than men to leave jobs to care for children.

  • Many who lost or left their jobs turned to gig work for income.

The big picture: Women now represent 46% of the independent contracting workforce, up from 33% in May 2017, per the American Action Forum. Women have long dominated the gig workforces in areas like caregiving and home cleaning, but their rise in the delivery economy is more recent.

By the numbers:

  • The number of women working for Uber's ride-share or delivery platforms has increased around 50% since January 2021, Uber says.
    • Women now make up just under half of the delivery people on Uber Eats.
  • DoorDash's delivery workforce is 58% women. "There’s been an uptick in the last year," says Elizabeth Jarvis-Shean, VP of communications and policy at DoorDash. "What we’re offering is the kinds of earning opportunity that women in particular have needed during this pandemic."

There are lots of reasons why women are turning to app-based gig work, but flexibility tops the list.

  • 80% of women on DoorDash said flexibility was the main reason they did the job. And 60% said the flexibility allowed them to care for a child or loved one, compared with just 30% of men.
  • 50% of women delivering for UberEats said that working for ride-sharing or delivery platforms provided them the flexibility they couldn't get from a traditional job, compared with 34% of men.
  • Women also tend to prefer delivery work to ride-sharing work because it can be safer, and so the pandemic-era explosion of delivery has brought more women to the gig economy. "I don't want strangers in my car," says Katy Nolan, who drives for DoorDash in Seattle.

Danielle Hayden, a single mother of two, delivers for DoorDash as a second job to make extra money. When the pandemic struck and she was furloughed from her main job in hospitality, she picked up extra shifts and loved the flexibility.

  • "I can do it when I want, and I can take a break when I want and as long as I want," she says. Hayden has even brought her kids along so she can care for them and work at the same time.

But, but, but: "What gig work often does is reflect what's wrong in the broader labor market," says Shelly Steward, director of the Future of Work initiative at the Aspen Institute. "And many women right now are struggling."

  • Millions of women — especially working mothers — are looking for jobs that allow them to juggle responsibilities but find too often that flexibility is only available to high-earners in office jobs.
  • For everyone else, "sometimes the only option is to turn on an app," Steward says. "It's filling a need in the labor market."

Go deeper

Updated Oct 21, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on socioeconomic mobility

On Thursday, October 21st, Axios race and justice reporter Russ Contreras and business reporter Hope King examined the long-standing barriers to achieving socioeconomic mobility that persist today and actions policymakers and private sector leaders can take to alleviate obstacles, featuring Democratic candidate for Maryland governor and former Robin Hood Foundation CEO Wes Moore and National Domestic Workers Alliance executive director Ai-jen Poo.

Wes Moore touched on the pathways to economic mobility, how companies can incentivize employees to stay in their jobs, and which industries were hit the hardest by COVID-19.

  • On how socioeconomic inequities were exacerbated by COVID-19: “What we saw from COVID was not simply an exacerbation of these inequities, it was also an exposure. I think when we’re thinking about what the recovery needs to look like and how we need to think about our capital and these new capital resources that are going to be placed inside of our communities, we need to think about them as investments that we know is going to create a measurable return on our larger societal benefit.”
  • On getting employees back to the workplace safely: “We can’t have a return to work strategy if we do not also have a child care strategy in the way we are going to be dealing with that.”

Ai-jen Poo highlighted the obstacles to socioeconomic mobility for domestic workers and how policy can assist in providing better economic opportunities for many.

  • On the socioeconomic barriers afflicting domestic workers: “It’s been a crisis of impossible choices for domestic workers, we’re talking about 2.2 million mostly women, majority women of color, who work inside of our homes. They work in isolated conditions and earn poverty wages without access to a safety net.”
  • On building mobility in the care sector: “I’m thinking specifically in the care sector, we have the opportunity to invest in care jobs becoming family sustaining jobs for the 21st century, a once in several generations opportunity to transform poverty wage work into good work with real economic mobility.”

Axios SVP of Events & Creative Strategy Kristin Burkhalter hosted a View from the Top segment with Capital One Executive Vice President & Head of External Affairs Andy Navarrete, who discussed data-driven insights on the current state of the American consumer.

  • “We think that some of the root causes of underemployment, most notably the lack of childcare, where we see a disproportionate impact on women workers relative to men and again disproportionate impact for communities of color, that these are areas that the policymakers who are debating what social infrastructure would look like can hopefully glean some insights that may help drive some of the solutions they ultimately adopt.”

Thank you Capital One for sponsoring this event.

Texas House probes school library books dealing with race and sexuality

Photo: Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

Texas state Rep. Matt Krause (R), chair of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, announced Wednesday that he's initiating a probe into schools' library books, according to a letter sent to the state's education agency and other superintendents.

Why it matters: The probe focuses on books that discuss race, sexuality, or "make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex," Krause wrote in the letter.

4 hours ago - World

Iran agrees to resume Vienna nuclear talks in November

Ali Bagheri (R) with Enrique Mora in Tehran on Oct. 14. Photo: Iranian Foreign Ministry handout via Getty

Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator said following a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday that Iran would resume negotiations in Vienna before the end of November, with the exact date to be set next week.

Why it matters: The Vienna talks have been frozen since Iran's new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June. This is the most direct commitment from Raisi's government to return to the negotiating table.

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