When You Don’t Earn Enough Driving for Uber to Pay for the Car You Rent From Uber

You go into debt. To your “employer.”

Photo credit: Paul Sableman, CC BY 2.0.

The Washington Post has been running this story for the past few days, tweaking the headline to highlight various aspects of the narrative (as of this writing, it’s “Birth, then back to work”).

Danielle Paquette’s profile of Maya Warren, a 32-year-old home health care aide who became unexpectedly pregnant after believing she was infertile, and who began driving for Uber to supplement her $300/week hourly wages, includes a lot of economic and social issues worth discussing.

For example: those $300/week wages are for full-time hours. Her employer does not provide paid family leave, and Warren declines to purchase temporary disability insurance for $300/month because it’s unaffordable on her current income.

So she decides to start driving for Uber instead.

Warren knew people who drove for Uber and enjoyed the extra cash, so she pawned a gold ring to rent a car through the ride-sharing service.
For one payment of $350, she could drive away in a Nissan Altima. Then $215 would be deducted each week from her Uber paycheck. If she didn’t drive enough to cover the payments, Uber’s partner in the deal, Enterprise, would charge her card on file.

As we—and Warren—discover, driving a rented car for Uber means having to make at least $215 per week just to break even. (That’s $215 after taxes, of course, since Warren is an independent contractor.)

Warren hustles, earning nearly as much driving for Uber as she does working at her home health care aide job, but since $215 gets deducted from her Uber earnings, she’s left with barely enough money to cover the cost of gas.

Then the baby arrives. The doctor recommends that Warren take at least twelve weeks to rest post-Caesarean, but she is back behind the wheel in a week. After all, she’s racking up debt every week she doesn’t drive.

Six weeks later, pain would still sting her abdomen, and Warren would owe Uber $1,400 for the rental car. (Uber, which looked into Warren’s account for The Washington Post, said she began missing rental payments after her fourth week of driving.)

I’m ready to discuss any of the issues in this story—I focused on the Uber/debt one, but we can also talk about low-paying workplaces, lack of family leave, the inability for many workers to take twelve weeks off regardless of employer, or anything else that spoke to you in this piece.

There’s so much to discuss, which is why I think the Washington Post keeps hoping that more people will read the article.