Uber has for a long time maintained that it is a platform not intended for full-time work. But for the duration of Uber’s existence, a determined minority of drivers have used the platform for full-time work.
Now a new survey from JPMorgan Chase indicates that working full-time as a driver is becoming financially untenable. In 2017, ride-hail drivers earned half what they earned in 2012 and 2013, according to the report. In practice, that means drivers earned a monthly average of $1,469 in 2012. By 2015, monthly earnings average dropped to $783.
Over the last few years, drivers have consistently complained about declines in rates of pay.
Uber was quick to contend that “monthly earnings” are not the same as “hourly earnings,” which the report did not comment on. In a Medium post, Uber senior economist Libby Mishkin contended that earnings may be decreasing because more people are driving for Uber. In 2014, she says, 160,000 Americans were working for Uber; today, that figure is over 900,000. “If the share of our partners who drive only occasionally has increased over time, as it has, it stands to reason that the average of every driver’s monthly (or, for that matter, weekly or yearly) earnings would decrease.”
JP Morgan’s report acknowledges a 2018 study, which Uber participated in, that says falling hourly wages between 2014 and 2016 were stabilized by an increase in trips per hour on Uber’s platform. The report also says the decrease in earnings could be related to fewer hours worked on average, but it adds that the reason for decrease is less important than the decrease itself: “Regardless of whether the drop in earnings was caused by a fall in wages or hours or both, it indicates that driving has become less and less likely to replace a full-time job over the past five years, as more drivers have joined the market.”
It is essentially becoming unrealistic for drivers to rely on platforms like Lyft or Uber for full-time work. By Uber’s own account, over half of drivers work fewer than 10 hours per week.
Some workers who work more than 40 hours a week have argued in lawsuits that Uber and Lyft misclassify them as contractors—and won. But as the number of workers pulling full-time hours dwindles and schedules look more flexible, Uber’s position—that its workers independently choose their own their own hours—becomes stronger.