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“Evolving the way the world moves.” – Uber’s advertising slogan

Uber is a ride-hailing company with a cute sounding name. I didn’t have their app on my phone but had ridden with friends when we needed to be dropped off or picked up. The service is popular when wanting to save time, avoiding the worry of a place to park.

Recently, our granddaughter offered an intriguing suggestion. “Granddaddy, you should drive for Uber. You’ll meet new people and hear their stories. Plus,” she added, “it’ll be great fun.”

Signing up was easy. I went on-line and joined the happy faces earning extra cash. Uber gathered my documents quickly, and then …

“Congratulations. You’re hired, start driving and earning RIGHT NOW!”

I logged on and waited. Soon, my first notice arrived. “You have a ride waiting, do you want to accept?” I said, “Sure.” My new career had started.

I picked up Tanisha as she got off work driving her to Walmart to buy groceries for her young family. That took 9 minutes and 48 seconds to cover the 3.23 mile route. (The app told me all this … and more.) She said, “Thanks,” and got out. Not a bad start until I studied the app on my phone. Tanisha had paid Uber $8.14, leaving no tip for me (customary, I’m told). I earned $3.94.

Always the optimist, I ran the numbers. At this rate I’d make $23.60 an hour, but only if I could keep people like Tanisha hopping in and out of my car all day long.

It’s not likely that a new fare will slide in just as the old slides out, not for a full hour, let alone the eight hours of an average work day, so I looked closer at the data. My first ride used 65 minutes and put 14 miles on my gassed up and freshly washed car. If each hour was like my first, I’d make $158 for a 40 hour week. That’s only $3.95 an hour. I could earn double at the convenience store or almost three times as much by being the greeter at Tanisha’s WalMart.

This one ride taught me everything I needed to know. Uber’s model is not my model. No matter how many hours I worked, driving my car and burning my gas, Uber would get more than half the take. Maybe “Uber” isn’t such a funny name after all.

As a business owner, I always wanted the rules to be fair. I wanted everyone to earn a good living and feel proud of their role. But we now have a corporate culture where many businesses make choices about values, even about the disposability of workers, that have nothing to do with fairness. They are making choices that are not right, not fair, and not good.

Welcome to the gig economy, where a working person’s life is all about stitching together a patchwork of jobs, trying to hold hope together while living the dream.

It’s not living the American Dream when nearly half of men 18-34 live with their parents or when 78% of us live paycheck to paycheck with zero savings.

It’s not the American Dream when payday lenders outnumber McDonalds and we hand over 400% APR to para-bankers for a few bucks until our next check arrives.

Our productivity has risen 74% in the last 43 years, yet pay has gone up under 13%. Prices today are 397% higher than in 1974. Something’s not right.

The American Dream has become a nightmare fueled only by greed – led by new-age corporations keeping too much of the pie. Management says it’s about “shareholder” value, yet only 55% of us own stock. We’re walking lockstep into the eye of this storm if we don’t wake up.

I’d planned to donate all my Uber paychecks to my favorite charities, hoping there would be much to spread around. But now, when a check for $3.94 arrives at the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte, I’ll need to call and explain.

Thanks, Elizabeth. See what you started by suggesting I’d meet new people and hear their stories by driving for Uber?

The story I learned was about the people working at the bottom of this new hierarchy. The ones playing by the other man’s rules. Life as an indentured servant is not this American’s dream.

Do these new-age job creators deserve a tip of the hat for this way of managing workers or is there a more fitting gesture to offer? Our gap of inequality will never be closed with these jobs.

Yes, Uber, you’re “Evolving the way the world moves.” Sadly, you’re moving it in the wrong direction for too many.

I drove for Uber and that was my brief but spectacular take on a very short career. Now I’ll step aside and hand over the mic. What’s your take on this gig economy? Is it good or bad? Is “minimum” okay or is “living” what’s needed? Do you drive for Uber. What is your experience?

Go ahead and comment. Yell as loud as you like, because this storm will need noise to wake all of us up.

Epilogue

Travis Kalanick, ousted from his company for building a culture including sexual harassment and discrimination, even manipulating both law enforcement and fellow partners, is selling a third of his shares for $1.4 billion (yes, billion – and that’s only one-third). It would appear that white privilege, sexual domination, and the other mis-guided notions of greed, is actually a pretty good way to earn a living. An Uber living, in fact!

Read what Nathan Heller and Violet Blue have to say about this “gig” many call a job.