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How a mom with 4 kids who drives for DoorDash and Walmart Spark struggles to make ends meet: 'It is a never-ending vicious cycle'

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Bri drives predominantly for DoorDash.SOPA Images / Getty Images
  • Bri, a single mom of four, is struggling to make ends meet driving for DoorDash and Walmart Spark.

  • Bri turned to gig driving after a knee injury made her previous job at an Amazon warehouse untenable.

  • Despite working long hours, she can barely pull in $400 a week after accounting for expenses.

Bri, 40, is lost on what to do next. The single mom of four, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, pulls in about $400 a week driving for DoorDash, Walmart Spark, and Skipcart, which isn't enough for her and her kids to live comfortably.

She drives while her kids are in school and after they're in bed, and she's using her daughter's car since she can't afford to buy a new car. She said after delivering food all day, she waits in line at a food pantry to get food for her and her kids.

It's what she has to do to provide for her family, given her osteoarthritis that makes it difficult for her to do other types of work. Bri asked to just use her first name for fear of professional repercussions.

"When we file taxes, we're self-employed, so we pay the self-employment tax, but gig drivers aren't prepared for that throughout the year," Bri told Business Insider. "It's hard to put money up when you're depending on literally tips."

Bri is one of many single parents who recently told BI they cannot work a stable 9-to-5 job while caring for their kids and instead rely on gig driving. Income is unpredictable and money is tight for many gig workers having to pay childcare costs.

Lyft said in February it would guarantee weekly earnings for drivers at 70% or more of what riders paid after external fees. Lyft noted that the typical US driver earned about $23 per engaged hour — or hours spent picking up or dropping off customers — after expenses. Uber said the typical US driver earned about $33 per engaged hour before driving expenses, per an announcement in November. DoorDash said that in New York City, drivers earn minimum guaranteed earnings of $17.96 per active hour.

In reality, given some drivers only have rides for half the time they're on delivery apps, these hourly earnings are frequently lower.

Gig driving with a disability

Bri was a business owner in home healthcare, but once the pandemic struck, she lost access to many of her clients.

She decided to work at an Amazon warehouse, which was somewhat flexible with her schedule, especially raising a child with Down syndrome. She was assigned to pack boxes and lift heavy items, often working 10-hour shifts and making about $600 a week.

In February 2022, she fractured her knee on the job, which developed into osteoarthritis. She was paid 60% of her normal paycheck while on medical leave. Recovery from the injury took a long time, especially since she faced cancer in her early 30s.

Since her doctor told her not to do physically intensive work, she pivoted to something less demanding. She was unsure how long Amazon's disability payments would last, and gig driving was one of her only options.

She got accepted to DoorDash first in March 2023, followed by smaller apps such as Skipcart and Roadie. She's still waitlisted for Uber Eats and GrubHub nearly two years later due to high saturation. She said she bypassed Walmart Spark's waitlist by putting in her location for a more rural town half an hour away.

When she started, she made about $800 on average, driving when her knee felt good and her kids were cared for, though sometimes she would need to drive with her kids.

From the end of March until the second week of June, she said she wouldn't bring home anything less than $700 a week working full-time. She drove in the mornings while her kids were at school, took a break, then drove for another few hours around dinner. She was consistently getting good orders, including some where she would get $10 to $15 driving just two miles.

She saved enough for a weeklong beach vacation in Galveston with her kids. But after returning from her trip, she said she lost her Top Dasher status.

"If you take some days off, it affects your ability to make money when you go back to work," Bri said. "If you are sick and can't work, you are penalized and are now going to make less money."

This meant she would have to schedule in advance when she would want to do deliveries. She said if there are not enough Top Dashers on the road, then the lower-tier drivers can come out without scheduling and "pick up the scraps," Bri said. She said she usually books a slot from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for Doordash from Monday to Friday and then drives for other companies.

"I looked over my earnings, and it's drastically getting lower. It's just dropping," Bri said. "I can barely bring in $300. I'll go out and I'll drive for two hours, and there are zero orders. I'll sit in front of restaurants that I know are busy, zero orders."

Screenshots show she was offered a 20-mile ride in one direction for $10.70, with little chance of a similar return trip. She's worried that if she keeps rejecting unprofitable rides, she may struggle even more over the next few months to find good deliveries. She recently became more picky — she rejects about 60% of her rides — as she's noticed she would lose money for some rides, particularly those that are only $3 or $4.

"We have to, in 30 seconds, figure out if it's worth the money to take the trip or not, and if you say no to too many, then you get knocked down a level," Bri said. "I'm a contractor, so if I don't want to take the offer, I shouldn't be penalized if the dollars aren't making sense."

Driving as a single parent

Bri has an apartment with her kids, though she said the conditions are unsuitable for the long term. She said she wants to move out of Texas later this year, though she hasn't had the money to relocate. She said she gets long-term disability payments from Amazon until August, and she has used that money to pursue a degree in data analytics.

She ensures her children go to school every day to get breakfast and lunch. She's driving her daughter's car after she wrecked hers a few months ago. Her kids, including her son with Down Syndrome, don't qualify for Medicaid or food stamps since she makes too much for the cutoff.

She said after her driving sessions delivering food for other people, she gets right in line at a food pantry and gets food for herself and her kids. On many days, she's only eating one meal a day to make sure her kids are fed.

"It is a never-ending vicious cycle that lures you in with great money at first, to the point you feel it can be relied on, then bam, now you're making $4 per delivery on average and have to run more than one delivery app at a time and only accept the orders that make sense," Bri said.

She drives her daughter's car because she can't afford to buy another car after "running it into the ground." She puts her kids to bed at night and then goes back out.

"You always feel like you have to be available because there's always going to be money out there," Bri said. "I have bills to pay. I've got a $300 electric bill. I can't take time off even when I need to."

She estimates she's pulling in $500 total between DoorDash and other platforms like ezCater and Roadie, a UPS company. On Skipcart, she's pulling in more per ride, though the demand is lower and rides are more sporadic. She also occasionally drives for Walmart Spark, though she calls it a "last resort" if she's having a slow week.

"I start school in March, and then I can change and do something different," Bri said. "You can't do what you've been doing all your life, and I have to re-strategize."

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

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