Side Hustle Safety Net: How Vulnerable Workers Survive Precarious Times | University of California Press (2023)
Available October 24, 2023
The first major study of how the pandemic affected gig workers—a sociological exploration that reads like a novel.
This is the story of what the most vulnerable wage earners—gig workers, restaurant staff, early-career creatives, and minimum-wage laborers—do when the economy suddenly collapses. In Side Hustle Safety Net, Alexandrea J. Ravenelle builds on interviews with nearly two hundred gig-based and precarious workers, conducted during the height of the pandemic, to uncover the unique challenges they faced in unprecedented times.
This book looks at both the officially unemployed and the “forgotten jobless”—a digital-era demographic that turned to side hustles—and reveals how they fared. CARES Act assistance allowed some to change careers, start businesses, perhaps transform their lives. However, gig workers and those involved in “polyemployment” found themselves at the mercy of outdated unemployment systems, vulnerable to scams, and attempting dubious survival strategies. Ultimately, Side Hustle Safety Net argues that the rise of the gig economy, partnered with underemployment and economic instability, has increased worker precarity with disastrous consequences.
"A thoughtful and often humorous analysis of the culture of side hustles—and the hidden cost of many of our modern conveniences. You’ll tip your delivery driver more after reading this."—Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg, coauthors of Modern Romance
"Side Hustle Safety Net is an important and timely examination of work and unemployment insurance during the global pandemic. Alexandrea Ravenelle’s book gets directly at the core challenge Congress began to address in March 2020: the unemployment insurance system in America was designed in a bygone era to support a workforce that looked very little like ours does today. As a result, in times of crisis when unemployment benefits are essential to the well-being of individual workers and our economy as a whole, too many Americans have for one reason or another found unemployment insurance inaccessible. Ravenelle grapples with the messiness of employment for many in today’s workforce—the patchwork of precarious, temporary jobs that pay too little and offer few benefits if any—and the ways that workers in those jobs find themselves separated from the social safety net. Common among the people she interviews, despite the many challenges they face, is a shared commitment to 'making it.' Her book reveals the bankruptcy of the idea that Americans prefer staying home and collecting a check to working hard and supporting themselves and their families—a smear that has come up far too often in recent years.
Ravenelle provides lessons on how certain workers are falling through the cracks, impresses with her knowledge of unemployment insurance’s place in the American safety net, and lends important ideas on how lawmakers should approach reforms to unemployment insurance moving forward."—Senator Ron Wyden, Chair of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee
"Ravenelle has produced a pioneering, eye-opening account of precarious workers in the time of Covid. Through multiple, compelling interviews, she describes the everyday lives of these 'canaries in the coal mine.' Side Hustle Safety Net lays bare a likely future for most of us—in which official statuses, luck, race, class, and other inequalities determine who will rise and who will fall. A must-read, major contribution to the scholarship on work in twenty-first-century America."—Juliet Schor, author of After the Gig: How the Sharing Economy Got Hijacked and How to Win It Back
Media Contact Info
Side Hustle Safety Net