Laid off from a nearly six-figure job, this 61-year-old has been driving for delivery apps: 'I don't get a day off'

 




Becky Melvin can usually be found on her phone — but not for the reasons many other Americans are.

Melvin, 61, of the Jacksonville, Florida, area, was laid off from a nearly six-figure public relations job in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2019. Since the start of the pandemic, she has worked seven days a week picking up and dropping off orders on delivery apps — typically for 12-hour stretches.

“If I don’t carry my phone with me to the bathroom, I might miss an order,” she said. “Or while I’m doing laundry.”

Primary source of income: Shuttling orders on Shipt and Instacart, earning about $50,000 before taxes last year. She expects that to rise to about $75,000 annually if she makes it through the hiring process for a 911 dispatcher role she’s pursuing. Before she lost her PR job, Melvin said, she made close to $100,000 annually.

Living situation: A three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, which she owns, with monthly homeownership costs totaling about $2,900.

Economic outlook: Melvin said her life could be worse but isn’t great right now.

“I sound like I’m doing OK, but I have all these things hanging over me. If any of them go at one time, it’s like a domino effect,” she said. “Don’t think I have it easy because I’m not on food stamps.”

Melvin is among the millions of independent contractors earning money on gig platforms despite seemingly robust economy. The unemployment rate has hovered around a historically low 4% for over two years, and median earnings have largely kept pace with inflation, which has slowed to 3.3% since it peaked above 9% in summer 2022.

But gig work continues to gain popularity as many living costs remain high. Bank of America found the share of its nearly 70 million customers who received income from gig platforms hit 3.8% in March, surpassing the previous peak in 2022.

Melvin said the gig lifestyle has been tough: “I’m teetering. I don’t get a day off. Physically that takes a toll. Emotionally this takes a toll on me.”

Budget pain points: Melvin said she has had to put off needed medical procedures and repairs to her home because of tight household finances.

“My fence is piecemealed together after several tropical storms and hurricanes have taken their toll on it over the years,” she said. And because she doesn’t have health insurance, Melvin said, she hasn’t seen a doctor or a dentist in some time.

“I don’t have the extra money to go get things done that I need to have done,” she said.

Taxes: For the first time in her life, she has delayed paying the federal tax bill she owes this year. She figured she may eventually have to dip into her savings to do so — even though she’d hoped to reserve those funds for mortgage payments. “That is what is most important,” she said.

Working life: Melvin said she has built a reputation with customers who order groceries from her. “They like who I am,” she said. “Some have become friends.”

“I’ve been able to make survival money over the past four years almost all off doing this,” she said, but “it’s been tough.”

Because the base pay she’s guaranteed on the delivery apps isn’t enough for her to live on, Melvin said, she relies heavily on gratuities. She still hasn’t gotten used to working for tips — especially when customers who seem able to afford to tip don’t.

“It feels bad pulling up to a house that costs seven figures, and I’ve just done a $248 Target order, I’ve used my car, used my time, delivered to you, and two hours later you didn’t tip me. Yeah, that pisses me off.”

Melvin said she keeps a list of addresses where clients didn’t tip so she can remember not to deliver there again.

Searching for a salaried job: After a long job search, Melvin said, she is now in the process of becoming a 911 dispatcher, at which she'll work 12-hour shifts for several days at a time. The role pays hourly and will pay about $51,000 a year plus overtime, along with rate bumps for working overnight and a $5,000 bonus if certain benchmarks are met for a year, she said.

Before she zeroed in on the dispatcher opportunity, Melvin said, she had struggled to nail down more stable work.

“I’ve had second, third, final interviews. I’m just not getting the jobs,” she recalled, adding that she believes age discrimination is “rampant” among employers looking to hire.

Even after she settles in as a 911 dispatcher, she still plans to continue delivering for her most reliable clients on her days off.

"I figure between two jobs I can make about $75,000 a year with good benefits," she said.

A break from the grind: “I used to be able to take trips and do things, go out,” she said. “Now I look at things on Instagram and go, ‘I can’t do that now.’”

Still, Melvin finally decided to take a cruise last year with one of her sons and his family — her first vacation in five years. She said it cost about 1½ years’ worth of savings.

“I went, ‘I haven’t done this in a while, but I need a break.’”

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