She was pregnant and broke. Signing up for Uber drove her into debt.

Driving for Uber is a costly side job

Maya Warren. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post; iStock; Lily illustration)

Maya Warren, 32, gives elderly patients baths and reminds them to take their pills. She monitors their comfort, fluffing pillows and pouring glasses of water. As a home health aide for Maxim Healthcare Services, a medical staffing company in Washington, she usually earns about $300 a week. Even after overtime, her annual pay of about $20,000 last year ranks her among America’s working poor.

In 2016, Warren was pregnant with her first child. Her employer didn’t provide her paid family leave, and she saw herself as a single mother.

Like an estimated quarter of working mothers in the United States, Maya Warren returned to work less than two weeks after childbirth.

That’s partly because the United States is the only industrialized nation not to guarantee any paid time off to new parents.

How family leave works

The federal government provides one protection to bread-winning parents, and it comes with caveats. The Family Medical Leave Act, enacted in 1993, ensures workers can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after a birth, as long as they’ve logged at least a year at a company that employs more than 50 people.

Some businesses cover the gap: As of 2016, 58 percent of firms replace at least some wages during maternity leave, and 12 percent do the same for paternity leave.

Moms and dads who lack paid family leave typically rely on savings or loans or credit cards to get by. An estimated 30 percent of workers who take leave slip into debt, according to a 2012 federal survey.

Trump’s campaign promise

Two months before Election Day, before a suburban Philadelphia crowd, Trump unveiled his plan for paid maternity leave.

1. He would open the unemployment insurance system to new mothers. (Currently, the state-run programs float cash only to laid-off workers.)
2. Under his policy, the average weekly maternity benefit, per his campaign, would be roughly $300 for up to six weeks.
3. Adoptive parents and fathers, according to Trump’s blueprint, wouldn’t qualify.
4. Trump said the plan wouldn’t cost an extra penny, that he would fund it by quashing fraud in the unemployment insurance system, which government estimates put at $3.2 billion in 2015. (However, no more than $900 million of the overpayments — benefits sent to deceased or employed folks, for example — were clawed back in 2015.)

As of now, enthusiasm for this plan appears to be scarce.

The paid leave movement

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the left’s de facto leader on paid family leave, has introduced a bill on Capitol Hill that would give new parents, regardless of gender, 12 weeks of paid time off at two-thirds of their pay. To fund the program, workers would give up 0.2 percent of their salary, and employers would match that — an average contribution of $2 a week, she said.

The paid leave movement is spreading. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island all cover wage loss for new parents, and San Francisco, New York and the District have approved similar measures.

Maya Warren has no paid maternity leave. In the U.S., she’s not alone. (Video: Jorge Ribas/Photo: Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Pregnant and broke

As an hourly worker, Warren saw her income shrink to about $150 a week when her home health aide shifts dwindled. She decided she needed a side hustle.

Driving for Uber

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

· In Washington, Uber drivers pull about $15 an hour, on average, according to Glassdoor salary data.

· She aimed for 75 rides each week. She signed the contract.

From Oct. 10 to Nov. 21, she had banked $1,458 — an average weekly wage of $243. That barely covered the rental cost. Not to mention the gas.

Back to work

Warren went into labor at the end of November, right after she had moved back in with her mother.

She gave birth to her son, Kortez Isaiah, by Caesarean section.

The doctor recommended 12 weeks of rest — four more than usual because of her fibroids. Again, Warren thought of money.

Six days after leaving the hospital, Warren sat at her mother’s kitchen table, staring at her car keys. Kortez slept nearby in his bassinet.

Though the doctor had told her not to slide behind the wheel for two weeks, Warren stood up. Her swollen stomach burned. Every step brought a new jolt.

She put on her black jacket with a faux-fur hood. She shuffled to her mother’s driveway. She opened the car door (“ow”), eased into the driver’s seat (“ow”) and started the engine (“ow”).

Warren picked up a woman with a suitcase who wanted to go to a house in Temple Hills, Md. — a 15-minute ride. That would net her $7.03.

Original story by The Washington Post’s Danielle Paquette.

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