Could Driving for Uber, Lyft Lead to Financial Freedom for Some African-Americans?

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Young African American black Latino man texting cellphone

Working with freedom.  Be your own boss.  Those slogans are the heart for any marketing campaign or pyramid scheme but what about driving?

“Clay,” an African-American driver who wished not to be identified by his real name, said that he started his career with Uber in March and replaced his lower paying call center job with that of the open road.  “I make more money compared to my last job but it’s not just the money,” he said.  “The lack of stress is what makes the biggest difference.”

Founded in 2009, Uber offers riders the opportunity to call for a ride by using an app that is downloaded to their smartphones for free.  Instead of waiting for a taxi, the app matches riders with the driver closest to the customer’s area.  The company’s service, as of March 2015, is utilized in 58 cities and 300 countries per Wikipedia.  It is estimated that the car service, which often runs in fierce competition with taxi companies globally, will be worth $10 billion by the end of this year.

A man in his mid-twenties, “Clay” said that Uber is a fantastic employment option for other African-American men his age who are struggling to find the right fit for employment.  “If you can keep a clean car, you have a good driving record, and you are personable, then you need to join,” he said.  “I have friends who make anywhere between $800-$1200 a week driving full time. Now, they put in a lot of hours but it’s possible to make a real living off of this and not have anyone to answer to.”

Unlike driving a taxi or limo service, Uber drivers do not have to apply for taxicab licensing to begin taking on rides.  They merely have to wait for alerts to ping into their phones with the customer’s address and they’re on their way.

The Economic Policy Institute cited a March 2011 paper that typically African-Americans makes less than their white counterparts because “early 90% of U.S. occupations can be categorized as racially segregated.”  The paper further cited that “in occupations where black men are underrepresented, the average annual salary is $50,533; in occupations where black men are overrepresented, the average annual salary is $37,005, more than $13,000 less.”  Some of the occupations that were listed as underrepresented for blacks includes construction, extraction, and maintenance, which are higher paying jobs with lower educational credentials.  However, the report said African-Americans saturate lower paying jobs in the service sector.

Adversely, BlackDemographics.com cites that, as of May 2015, unemployment among African-Americans is 10.2%, which represent 3.8 million citizens per the 2010 Census.  The next Census population count will take place in the year 2020 where it is estimated the bulk of the population will be non-white Hispanics.

“Clay” worked in a call center in Atlanta where the average wage was $9.00 per hour, a wage that allowed many of his fellow employees to qualify for food stamps or other social services.  However, the Decatur resident said that his lifestyle is vastly different than that of punching a clock daily or that of an ordinary cab driver.

“The major difference between an Uber driver and the taxi service is the rating system. You have the ability to rate your driver on the experience you had in his/her car getting to your destination,” he said.  “I make all the decisions regarding my business, and, if a mistake is made such as picking up the wrong customer, we have a team of support who can correct that so you can continue focusing on what you’re doing.”

Lyft, a competing service to Uber, also promises the freedom of making one’s own schedule while driving.  Jorel H. Orange, 35, said that he drives for the service part-time on the weekends and finds it ideal to picking up just any second job.

“You get the opportunity to meet new people while you earn some extra money,” he said.  “They do a background check on you when you apply for the job, and it usually comes back within 48 hours.  You can also get a bonus when you refer someone for the job.”

Orange, who drives five hours a day on Fridays and Saturdays, usually averages $100 per night, which changes based on distance to customer, special events, and primetime or premium rates.  “I think it’s very beneficial for people who are looking for work, especially if you have a car that’s 2005 or newer,” he said.  “If you’re looking for a job, it’s a great way to gain some extra money until you find something.”

Since there aren’t non-compete clauses that Uber or Lyft drivers have to sign, often drivers are able to pick up fares for either service, which also can be an additional opportunity for one’s wallet.  While driving for car services may not be the dream for most African-Americans, it appears that drivers are like “Clay” will eventually be able to pay for their education outright one ride at a time with something that started out as just an unexplored road.