Welcome to the Task Rabbit Economy

The unemployment numbers were released today for August 2013 and the rate fell 0.1% from 7.4% to 7.3%. I know how it happened. I got a fourth part-time job, so I am one of the 169,000 people with a new job. I am now, ever so slightly more back in the workforce because I took another gig teaching group fitness classes at a fourth gym. A good week of classes for me comes in at about $200 before taxes. I am paid a flat rate per class, regardless of how long it takes me to prepare, or how far I have to travel. I’m just gonna go with my gut here and guess that, while the numbers do look good, most of those 169,000 jobs were like mine, a little, but not enough.

A few months ago I read this article on Recruiting the New Labor Force, and literally felt sick to my stomach when I finished. Toward the end of the article, I read this sentence:

“Politics aside, what this means financially is that rising unemployment, combined with lopsided wealth distribution, creates a new labor supply that can be organized and routed, to pair those with extra time with those who have disposable income.”

The commenters on the article seemed to agree heartily with the writer, that in future there will be a vast, untapped marketplace of workers with “extra time,” who are willing to work for very low wages to do tasks and errands that the wealthy (read, gainfully employed) no longer want to be bothered with. This isn’t really a new idea, as I seem to recall, in the not so distant past these people were called servants and they at least got room and board, even if the wages were low.

Now, I could embrace this culture and become a housecleaner, taxi service, travel agent, launderer, dog walker, babysitter, closet organizer, etc., because I can and have done all of these things for myself. But do I really want to do these things for other people? Um, no.

What exactly does the author mean when he mentions that elusive extra time? He seems to be completely missing the point that Task Rabbits and those that work for similar outfits, aren’t taking on projects in their “extra time” each day, they are struggling to piece together a living wage from small, individual events that someone with disposable income is willing to throw money at to avoid doing.

It’s easy to imagine how certain people will amuse themselves by thinking that these types of jobs will engender an entrepreneurial spirit in young, inexperienced workers hoping to pad out their resumes and that stay at home moms and retirees will welcome the opportunity to bring home a little extra cash—just for fun, of course. I think I remember a McDonald’s commercial pitched at retirees a few years ago, and they at least offered benefits and vacation time and probably don’t need a background check and drug screen.

I can guarantee that every Bunny out there, no matter how high their ratings, is resentful of having to wash other people’s dogs or underwear and never believes for a minute that this “experience” will enhance their resume. Task Rabbit seems to be proud that they have 15 Ph.D.s working for them. In what universe does someone with a Doctorate speculate that delivering dry cleaning will land them a stellar academic posting?

Even though I lost my full-time job almost two years ago, I’ve never stopped working. Unfortunately, as much as I try to demonstrate my hard work ethic and ability to maneuver in the marketplace, I never once pretended that a potential employer would view my having part-time jobs as anything other than a necessary avenue for much needed cash. While I’ve always worked as a group fitness instructor because I enjoy it, I absolutely know that it could never be considered a reliable source of full-time income.

I don’t doubt that there is an intent to acclimate both younger workers and the unemployed to lowered expectations by pumping up these services as opportunities for “folks who just want something more interesting than a standard desk job.”* I hope those Ph.D.s are getting paid well for assembling Ikea furniture.

*Direct quote from the Task Rabbit site.

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