How a single mom who drives for Uber Eats and Amazon Flex sometimes works 16 to 18 hours a day to provide for her kids

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How a single mom who drives for Uber Eats and Amazon Flex sometimes works 16 to 18 hours a day to provide for her kids
Starla (not pictured) drives for Uber Eats.Carsten Koall/Getty Images
  • Starla, a single mother, is struggling to make ends meet driving for Uber Eats and Amazon Flex.
  • Despite the financial hardship, Starla is pursuing a degree to secure stable work in the future.
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Starla, 27, sometimes has to drive 16 hours a day for Uber Eats to make ends meet as a single mother raising an eight-year-old in Jacksonville, Florida.

It’s one of the few jobs she’s found in her area. She said she struggled to find employment outside gig work that could accommodate her schedule. While gig driving has allowed her to earn income and pursue a degree over the last two years, she’s barely scraping by.

“Two years ago, it was way easier to get by and pay bills versus now,” Starla told Business Insider. “I could 100% make bills in a week two years ago, whereas now, I have to work double or triple the time. Now I have to split my bills up.”

Starla is one of many gig drivers looking to pursue stable work with more benefits as they notice their gig driver earnings fall. For many single parents, as well as Americans with disabilities, gig driving is one of only a few options to make money, even though earnings can be inconsistent based on geography and time of year.

Lyft announced earlier this month that drivers must get 70% of what customers pay weekly when accounting for tips and bonuses. Uber does not have a specific minimum earnings floor nationwide but said in past statements to BI that most drivers are comfortable with their earnings.

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“I give mad props to any parent attempting to make ends meet and say, ‘I’m the only one that can drop off and pick up kids,’” Starla said. “It’s rough, and then you go back out later in the day and hope that later in the day will be better. It’s super discouraging, but you have to do what you have to do.”

Driving for Uber Eats and Amazon Flex

Starla began driving for Uber Eats and Amazon Flex two years ago. She lost her job at a hotel after taking an emergency leave of absence to recover from having her appendix removed. She was enrolled in college but withdrew after relationship troubles.

She couldn’t immediately find another job, so she tried to figure out some strategies to make gig driving work for her.

At first, she would work between eight and 10 hours a day and make a comparable — and sometimes higher — salary as her hotel position. She crafted her schedule around her kid’s time at school.

“As a single mom, it’s hard finding a regular job with limited availability to give to a company,” Starla said. “Although I have so much experience and attended college, companies do not even hesitate to say no because I can’t provide eight hours during the day.”

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Starting out was difficult as she couldn’t drive around with her young daughter and didn’t have a ton of extra money to pay for a babysitter — though she said now her daughter joins her on some rides.

“When they get older, they get bored, they don't want to be in the car, so that makes it a lot more of a struggle,” Starla said. “You can't work as long as you would if you weren't a parent. I know others who don't have kids, they can drive the straight 12 hours with no breaks, and they make a lot more.”

She said her father, who lives 45 minutes away, would often watch her daughter on weekends while she drives. She doesn’t have steady childcare during the week due to high childcare prices in her area on top of bills and food costs.

She said there were promotions for driving during certain time windows or at specific locations, such as a guaranteed hourly base.

“Uber did that in order to get their drivers to take on such compensation-heavy deliveries,” Starla said. “A lot of us declined the $3 orders in order to make use of our time, but during those promotions, it was great. We could maximize our time, our driving, everything.”

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She said Amazon Flex has paid decently well, though getting deliveries recently has been difficult. She takes on three- to four-hour shifts, which pop up infrequently in her area but average about $20 an hour. The hourly pay, she said, is much better than Uber Eats, where she said she’s sometimes just breaking even on rides after accounting for expenses.

“Unless you’re doing something else like me, for instance, doing Uber Eats in the meantime until something shows up for Amazon, then doing Amazon Flex is kind of a waste of time because there isn’t enough activity in my area,” Starla said.

Trying to make ends meet

Starla said she now sees fewer promotions on Uber Eats, and the ones she does see aren’t as profitable. She said Walmart and package pickups on Uber Connect can be profitable, though they’re rarer than food deliveries.

She said sometimes she sees bonuses per ride if she drives further out — sometimes over an hour away — though the cost of gas alone doesn’t make it worth the trip.

“Driving for Uber has not only wrecked my car as far as maintenance but also my own wallet,” Starla said. “Sometimes they have great bonuses, but here lately, it’s one area about an hour and a half away that it is giving me boost and promotions for, which gives an additional $1-$2 per trip.”

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Now, she’s driving from right after she drops her daughter off at school around 8 a.m. until 9 or 10 p.m. with a break from picking up her daughter. She drives between 12 to 14 hours on weekends between 6:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. She typically takes a day or two off a week to recover from the toll it takes on her body, though she said lately she’s been driving every day.

Even with all this driving, she estimates she’s only pulling in $300 to $400 a week from Uber Eats after accounting for gas, car maintenance, and taxes. To be okay financially, she said she would need to pull in double that amount a week.

“I had to pick up multiple other side gigs to afford to stay on my feet,” Starla said. “Although it isn’t a ‘full-time job’ or ‘in a proper setting,’ it’s still hard taking on four different jobs, working 16-18 hours a day on top of pick up and drop offs to school.”

She said she donates plasma for supplemental income while also applying to jobs left and right — many of which she said are scams. Donating plasma pulls in nearly $100 a week, she said.

She prioritizes Walmart pickups and larger deliveries that she knows will tip decently. Still, she’s noticed tips are low recently, and she suspects a lot of people in her area have stopped ordering due to rising prices and fees.

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“We don’t get tips because customers see a delivery free, then they see another fee, so there are two fees that are on there, and a lot of people mistake the delivery free as an automatic tip,” she said. “We don’t see any of that.”

In addition to driving full time and raising her kid, she’s enrolled in an online bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice and human services with hopes of becoming a counselor or therapist. She’s hoping to complete a master’s degree in a few years and get an office job as her daughter becomes more independent. She takes her classes at night or on weekends and off days.

“I’m going to continue to drive my car until I finish, and then I’m hoping that I can find something a little more stable,” Starla said.

Are you a ride-hailing driver who's struggling to pay bills? If you'd like to share your story, reach out to nsheidlower@businessinsider.com.

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