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Women who lost jobs due to COVID turn to food delivery platforms

Many of the nearly 2.5 million women who lost their jobs in the past year because of the coronavirus pandemic are now turning to rideshare and delivery companies to support their families.

Services like UberEats, DoorDash and Instacart are seeing an increase in drivers signing up for their platforms and a large percentage are women whose careers have been impacted by the pandemic. 

According to Uber's data shared with CBS News, the number of women delivery partners on UberEats more than doubled between April 2020 and January 2021. Female drivers currently make up nearly half of all delivery partners on Uber's food delivery platform, a spokesperson said.

Tiffany Stockton, who has two kids ages 10 and 12, lost her job as a substitute teacher in Colorado Springs, Colorado last March. She said she initially hesitated to sign up for UberEats because of safety concerns and considered trying retail work instead. 

But in retail, "a lot of your typical standard opportunities just weren't there."

In August, when her husband, too, lost his job, Stockton said "there was a little bit of panic" and "a lot of stress." So, while she was also homeschooling her two children, she turned to Uber and GrubHub to supplement her family's income.

On the same day her husband was fired, Stockton found out her application for UberEats had made it past the waitlist. 

"I definitely needed something that would provide flexibility and a decent amount of income," Stockton said. She works three-hour shifts and is usually able to complete six to eight deliveries. Stockton said she makes an average of $25 an hour including tips but subtracts 25% for taxes. 

Tips are "fairly predictable" — deliveries from fast food restaurants "almost always" include lower tips compared with customers who order from sit-down or dine-in restaurants, she said.

Stockton says she's certified to teach kindergarten through eighth grade but has "moved on." "I enjoy the freedom and the flexibility of the gig and food delivery service," she said. "Being my own boss is a really nice thing."

Federal data shows 275,000 women left the workforce in January, compared with only 71,000 men. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have both called the mass exodus of women from the workforce a national emergency.

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco said this week that a prolonged pandemic would further delay the return of women with children to the labor market, which could affect future earnings potential and reduce the number of mothers who eventually return to work.

The San Francisco Fed said an additional 700,000 women would have been working in December if mothers had experienced an economic recovery similar to that of women without children.

Since the pandemic began, women forced out of the workforce have increasingly turned to part-time gigs with rideshare and food delivery companies.

A spokesperson for Lyft told CBS News that among those who drive for the platform, women are more likely than men to have been laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19. 

Women make up over a fifth of all drivers on Lyft, according to the company, which said women are also more likely than men to drive on Lyft as a result of income loss.

At DoorDash, 55% of the drivers are women. The food delivery company had nearly 2 million new "Dashers" join the platform in the first 6.5 months of the pandemic, a spokeswoman said.

Sarah Dygert started driving for DoorDash last March after she lost her job as a waitress in Columbus, Ohio. 

"Once the restaurant closed and with the pandemic, no one was hiring, really, and I thought this is a good way to make some money," Dygert told CBS News. Driving on DoorDash has been her sole source of income since then.

Dygert typically earns $3 in base pay for each delivery and tries to complete enough trips during a shift so that she's earning $18-20 an hour — even though more than half of the customers don't tip.

On an average day, she starts driving at 10 a.m. so she can catch the post-breakfast and pre-lunch rush. On weekends, she often works through the dinner hours but doesn't like driving "too late" for safety reasons.

"Someone actually pulled a gun on me one time, so after that I was extra careful," Dygert said, recalling a road rage incident last April while she was completing a delivery. She was able to escape without harm and reported the confrontation to authorities. 

The incident didn't involve a DoorDash customer, but showed Dygert there's some inherent risk in working late.

But Dygert, who is expecting her first child this summer, says she's thankful that opportunities with rideshare and food delivery services exist "because when you might not have anywhere else to turn for an income, you can always do that."

"As long as you've got a car and you're motivated, you've got something to give you some income and stability," Dygert said. She recently secured a full-time job as a remote customer service representative but said she will continue to drive on DoorDash to save money to buy a house.

Women driving on rideshare apps and food delivery services are also much more likely than men to be taking care of a loved one at home, which makes the flexible work schedules more appealing.

Suzanne Garner, who lives in San Diego, California, and now works for Instacart, told CBS News she's been an at-home caregiver her entire life. The 54-year-old said she was working full-time caring for an eldery woman who contracted COVID-19 and passed away in October.

Garner was unable to find a full-time job as a caregiver after that and began spending her savings, which dwindled within a few weeks. She also takes care of her husband, who has a disability, and her father, who has late-stage dementia. 

"Last year was the worst year of my life," Garner said. "I was scared, you know, I was worried about our future and I didn't really know what was happening." Garner said she could not believe her luck when she read about Instacart in the newspaper and realized she could sign up to be a shopper while also taking care of her family. 

"You just don't know sometimes if you're going to be able to go to work the next day, but you won't get fired if you don't because there's something else going on in your life that's very important," Garner said.

It's unlikely she'll be a full-time caregiver again: the flexibility afforded by Instacart allows her to earn an income and take care of her family at the same time.

Instacart signed up 300,000 new "shoppers" to its platform at the beginning of the pandemic, bringing its total to 500,000. Seventy percent of its shoppers are women.

As coronavirus cases spiked during the summer, more women than men continued to turn to gig work after they lost their full-time jobs.

In July, Uber surveyed its drivers and found that more than a quarter of the female delivery partners on Eats said a major reason they were delivering takeout orders was because they lost their jobs or had hours cut, compared to only 15% of male respondents. 

"I've never had to work two jobs before," Erin Bornt, who lives in Albany, New York, told CBS News. She works a full-time job as a 911 operator but began driving for UberEats last year to help pay her bills and clear some of her debts.

Bornt, a single mother with a home mortgage and car payments, told CBS News that her stress level is "as high as it could be," but the opportunity to earn extra money with UberEats has been a "lifesaver."

"It is a lot to balance, and I never feel like I'm ever on top of everything," Bornt said, adding that it's comforting to know that "any month you're going to be short, you can go out for a few hours."

She added, "I don't see myself stopping anytime soon — unless I win the lottery."

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