The Power of the Gig Economy

Much like in the rest of the country and world, a new job sector has emerged in New Orleans. The city has felt the arrival of the “gig economy”, which is best described as temporary jobs that usually have flexible, DIY schedules that fit the needs of the employee. In recent years, companies like Uber, Lyft and temporary rental companies such as AirBNB have grown to have a rather large presence in New Orleans. The convenience of these services adds to the leisure and ease with which people (often tourists) can traverse the city. Since 2013, these driving services, combined with delivery “gig” services such as Postmates, Waitr, and UberEAT’s have all exploded in popularity. These services completely transform one’s experience of the city from the standpoint of being a consumer. Want a fancy dinner but don’t want to leave the AirBnB you’ve rented online? Order a five-star dinner from UberEATs for a relatively small service fee and receive it at your door. Don’t want to park in the French Quarter? Take an Uber directly to your favorite bar.  The pattern of digitized transactions becomes apparent once one observes the immense opportunities these services provide to the consumer.

One employee in this gig economy was candid enough to share his opinion on working for the a ride sharing service.  “It doesn’t pay my rent, but it’s good for making ends meet,” says Texas native, Adam, a Lyft driver. “I wouldn’t say I make my living but, it helps, you know? Gifts, little things, gas, whatever, that’s where I see it working.”

On one end, this is a massive achievement for a city that can be cumbersome to explore for an outsider. The benefits of these services fit perfectly with the transient nature of many of the people who visit New Orleans for holidays or for one of our many annual festivals. Such convenience gives any on-looker the impression that these additions to the job market are here to stay. To imagine the gig economy becoming a permanent fixture in the city of New Orleans, how it effects the local populace must be examined in order to attain a full picture of its effects. For many, New Orleans is an international destination with once-in-a-lifetime experiences to offer, but to the locals, it’s still the home they (and likely the many generations before them) have always known. There is an imbedded code of conduct within the city that has existed for hundreds of years. To find where the gig economy is disrupting (or simply altering) these codes is perhaps the most accurate litmus test of what the economic and cultural changes of such services are actually doing.

The southern charm of the residents of New Orleans is world-famous. The familiar conversations, warm-hearted greetings and unique use of language are a major facet of the cultural picture of the city’s cultural fabric. The question that ought to occur upon examining the gig economy is;how has the nature of conversations in New Orleans changed as a result of these new transactional exchanges? When a tourist steps into an Uber driver’s vehicle, he is likely to be informed about his surroundings, the nature of his destination, and even the history of their particular street, all from one interaction. The intimate nature of an Uber ride has the potential to enhance a feature of New Orleans that is already present. Informative and pleasant interactions are now financially incentivized by these services, thereby adding an extra layer of southern charm that an outsider may have never seen before. These exchanges are usually more common in gig services since the employee is technically part-time, and may have more in common with their customer than a taxi driver who is often just viewed as a professional driver.

There are dozens of other examples of positive changes to the daily experiences of New Orleanians and tourists, like the added safety of being able to drink ad-nausem and hop into an Uber or Lyft instead of driving or trying to hail a taxi.There are unfortunate eventualities to the gig economy that do come along with the positive aspects. The ability to order everything from your phone, including a place to stay in the form of an AirBnB,  eliminates any person-to-person transactional conversation. By the time the consumer comes into physical proximity with the employee the transaction is mostly completed, which makes any sort of personalized bartering or negotiation extremely difficult at best. Since these companies are almost entirely digital and non-personal, getting customer service beyond the physical driver, renter or food delivery person can also become spotty and time-consuming. Consumers find themselves in a predicament when neither they nor the person who is performing the gig can solve a problem that has made the service unresponsive to their needs. The lack of human support beyond the (relatively powerless) driver/courier or renter can prove to become a major obstacle. Luckily, all of these services are constantly updated and improved in-app to prevent any serious volume of faults to arise.

What can be seen from a macro-view is a new playing field in the economic game of paying rents and mortgages for the hard-working people of the city of New Orleans. Opportunity has popped up where there once was none, and the city has responded by beginning to alter itself to accommodate this new economic environment. With a four percent income tax in the city and an average annual income, combining all adults and children, being $27,255,[1] such a steady stream of new money is not something to ignore. With all the positive changes that it brings, the gig economy’s arrival in New Orleans comes with its downsides, but it is surely a complimentary addition to a city that is no stranger to hustle.



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