Esther Anastasia holds a sign during a protest rally with government workers and their supporters in Boston, Friday, Jan.11, 2019. The workers rallied with Democratic U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and other supporters to urge that President Donald Trump put an end to the shutdown so they can get back to work. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Esther Anastasia holds a sign during a protest rally with government workers and their supporters in Boston, Friday, Jan.11, 2019. The workers rallied with Democratic U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and other supporters to urge that President Donald Trump put an end to the shutdown so they can get back to work. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

U.S. federal workers take on odd jobs to make ends meet

The hundreds of thousands of out-of-work government employees have more options than in past shutdowns

When her paychecks dried up because of the partial government shutdown, Cheryl Inzunza Blum sought out a side job that has become a popular option in the current economy: She rented out a room on Airbnb.

Other government workers are driving for Uber, relying on word-of-mouth and social networks to find handyman work and looking for traditional temp gigs to help pay the bills during the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

The hundreds of thousands of out-of-work government employees have more options than in past shutdowns given the rise of the so-called “gig economy” that has made an entire workforce out of people doing home vacation rentals and driving for companies like Uber, Lyft and Postmates.

Blum decided to capitalize on the busy winter travel season in Arizona to help make ends meet after she stopped getting paid for her government contract work as a lawyer in immigration court in Tucson. She says she has no choice but to continue to work unpaid because she has clients who are depending on her, some of whom are detained or have court hearings.

But she also has bills: her Arizona state bar dues, malpractice insurance and a more than $500 phone bill for the past two months because she uses her phone so heavily for work. Blum bills the government for her work, but the office that pays her hasn’t processed any paychecks to her since before the shutdown began. So she’s been tapping every source she can to keep herself afloat — even her high school- and college-aged children — and is even thinking about driving for Uber and Lyft as well.

“So after working in court all day I’m going to go home and get the room super clean because they’re arriving this evening,” she said of her Airbnb renters.

“I have a young man who’s visiting town to do some biking, and he’s going to come tomorrow and stay a week,” she added. “I’m thrilled because that means immediate money. Once they check in, the next day there’s some money in my account.”

The shutdown is occurring against the backdrop of a strong economy that has millions of open jobs, along with ample opportunities to pick up Uber and Lyft shifts.

The Labor Department reported that employers posted 6.9 million jobs in November, the latest figures available. That’s not far from the record high of 7.3 million reached in August.

Roughly 8,700 Uber driver positions are advertised nationwide on the SnagAJob website, while Lyft advertises about 3,000.

But the gig economy doesn’t pay all that well — something the furloughed government workers are finding out.

Pay for such workers has declined over the past two years, and they are earning a growing share of their income elsewhere, a recent study found. Most Americans who earn income through online platforms do so for only a few months each year, according to the study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

Chris George, 48, of Hemet, California, is furloughed from his job as a forestry technician supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture forest service. He’s been driving for Lyft but has only been averaging about $10 for every hour he drives. Paying for gas then eats into whatever money he has made.

He just got word that he’ll be getting $450 in weekly unemployment benefits, but hadn’t received any money as of Monday. In the meantime, he’s taking handyman or other odd jobs wherever he can.

“I’ve just been doing side jobs when they come along,” he said Monday. “I had two last week, and I don’t know what this week’s going to bring.”

George Jankowski is among those hunting around for cash. He’s getting a $100 weekly unemployment check, but that’s barely enough to pay for food and gas, he said.

On Monday, he made $30 helping a friend move out of a third-floor apartment in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Jankowski is furloughed from a USDA call centre and does not expect to get back pay because his job is part-time and hourly.

Jankowski, an Air Force veteran, calls the situation “grueling.”

“It’s embarrassing to ask for money to pay bills or ask to borrow money to, you know, eat,” he said.

Some employers were looking at the shutdown as a way to recruit, at least temporarily.

Missy Koefod of the Atlanta-based cocktail-mixer manufacturer 18.21 Bitters said the company needs temporary help in the kitchen, retail store and getting ready for a trade show, and decided to put out the word to furloughed federal workers on social media that they were hiring.

“I can’t imagine not getting paid for a couple of weeks,” Koefod said.

American Labor Services, a staffing agency that employs 500 people a week in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, sent out an appeal to furloughed federal workers on Monday, asking them to get in touch for clerical or light-industrial work.

“Some might not realize that they could get something temporary, it could last for a short period,” said Ben Kaplan, the company’s president and CEO.

Israel Diaz sought out an Uber job and applied to be a security guard after he was furloughed from his Treasury Department job in Kansas City. He said federal work has become increasingly demoralizing and that he and many of his co-workers are considering quitting.

“In the old days, you work for the federal government, you get benefits, great,” said Diaz, a Republican and Marine Corps veteran. “Now, it’s not even worth it.”

Associated Press writers Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Chris Rugaber in Washington contributed to this report.

Michelle R. Smith, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

This photo courtesy of Leanne Grover shows the immediate aftermath of the fire at 7987 Galbraith Cres. that caused extensive damage and displaced six residents. (Leanne Grover/Submitted)
Residents of a Central Saanich duplex ‘fortunate’ to escape Sunday morning fire

Damage to the duplex extensive with one resident said to be ‘catatonic’ after escaping building

The City of Victoria recently opened protected two-way bike lanes on Harbour Road, linking the Galloping Goose Trail with the Johnson Street bridge. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Drivesmart: Bicycle lanes aren’t going away, so know the rules

Here’s what you need to know to keep yourself and others safe

Coulson Aviation’s newest Chinook helicopter, N43CU, takes to the air above the Alberni Valley Regional Airport following a complete airframe conversion into a helitanker, April 8, 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY BILL MCLEOD)
Coulson Aviation’s newest helitanker takes flight

Converted Chinook helitanker off to U.S. for new paint job

Katie Hamilton is one of three Victoria residents receiving a $10,000 podcast production grant from Telus Storyhive. Her podcast, Her Love of Sport, will take listeners through stories from women in the sports industry. (Courtesy of Katie Hamilton)
Three podcasts coming to Victoria following Telus Storyhive grants

Victoria podcasts chosen out of 700 applications to receive $10,000

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)
VIDEO: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has listed Harbour Air and Air Canada flights to and from Nanaimo, from April 3, 4 and 12, on its list of flights with COVID-19. (News Bulletin file)
COVID-19 cases reported for Nanaimo flights, says disease control centre

Nanaimo flights for April 3, 4 and 12 listed on BCCDC’s list of flights with COVID-19

A Parksville Fire Department’s firefighter hoses down the facade of a Parksville Heritage Centre building after it caught fire on Friday afternoon (April 16). (Michael Briones photo)
Fire crews, roofers work to douse building fire in Parksville

Damage was minimal and workers escaped injury

Most Read