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Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Find Me A Part-Time Job

An image from the TaskRabbit website shows one of the company's workers assembling a piece of furniture — a task the site says will pay $45.
An image from the TaskRabbit website shows one of the company's workers assembling a piece of furniture — a task the site says will pay $45.

The unemployment rate is 8.1 percent, but the underemployment rate — that's people who work part time but want full-time work — is much higher. For many people, making ends meet means cobbling together various part-time jobs. And there are some apps for that.

Shannon Mills has blanketed the floor in a spacious home in Corte Madera, Calif., with protective plastic. Now she's taping off the trim, getting ready to paint over the peach-colored living room walls with the more neutral "bisque" shade waiting in cans at her feet.

"I've been using the famous blue masking tape," she says, "trying to use really professional stuff."

Mills is not professionally trained for the work she's been doing lately: everything from sewing curtains to fixing drywall. Until about five months ago, the 38-year-old was the director of a nonprofit in Berkeley. She resigned from that job. And after freelancing for awhile, she decided to hunt for something more permanent.

"I started putting in applications, and you know how the job market is," she says. "It was just crickets on the other end. People weren't even telling me 'thank you' for sending an application."

So, Mills started searching for work on TaskRabbit.com, a Web service that connects people who need money with others who need someone to perform casual work.

"It's really about helping people in a service networking marketplace to connect and help each other out," says TaskRabbit founder Leah Busque. She launched the online labor marketplace in 2008 after the stock market had crashed, and waves of people were being laid off.

'Rabbits' Wait For Work

Many of the site's early "Rabbits" were unemployed people looking to tide themselves over until they found a stable job. The company now has 4,000 TaskRabbits, with 1,000 more on a waiting list.

"They're out running their own errands anyway," Busque says. "Our most popular tasks are in the category of house chores, grocery deliveries, food deliveries."

The online classifieds site Craigslist used to be the go-to destination to hire and find casual work. But unlike Craigslist, TaskRabbit has an infrastructure of profiles, bidding and reviews. And Busque says she's paid special attention to the trust factor.

"You go through a series of background checks, including a Social Security trace, a federal background check, a country background check," she says. "There are about five of them that we do. All of our TaskRabbits have to read a manual, take a quiz to get their license."

Gigwalk is a 1-year-old company with a goal similar to TaskRabbit's: helping people make extra cash. But Gigwalk matches people with businesses that want to outsource work but don't want to hire full-time employees.

"Trust and reputation are critical," says founder Ariel Seidman. "We're helping facilitate a transaction between two different people."

Making Extra Cash In Coffee Shops

Maia Bittner, 23, a software engineer, used Gigwalk and found that Microsoft was hiring people to take panoramic photos of the inside of the coffee shops where she was often doing her programming work anyway.

"They were going to post this onto Bing maps, so if people were looking up different restaurants to go to, they would be able to see what the atmosphere was like," Bittner says. "And I figured the $7 would buy my coffee for the day."

Bittner eventually found a full-time job, so she doesn't use Gigwalk much anymore. But Shannon Mills continues to use TaskRabbit, and earns about $1,000 a month.

"It's enough to sustain me," Mills says. "I think that this is an experiment for me, and I'd like to keep trying it for a little while, and I'd like to see what works and maybe what doesn't work."

The catch is that services like TaskRabbit don't offer benefits, health insurance — or a guarantee that work will be there the next day.

But that's not stopping these companies' growth. Gigwalk has more than 100,000 people signed up nationwide. And TaskRabbit plans to roll out its service in three new cities, for a total of eight around the country.

This story was produced by Youth Radio's New Options Desk.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nishat Kurwa