Are Side Hustles Here To Stay In A Post-Pandemic World?
At the start of 2020, most of the people I knew were side hustling as a way to destroy their student loan debt, bolster retirement savings, or get out of a job they hate. But as the pandemic pushed the unemployment rate to a record high, more and more Americans turned to side hustles as a way to survive.
It’s hard to tell how many Americans actually started their first side hustle in 2020. But we do know that with increased demand for services like on-demand grocery delivery, the pandemic made side hustling even more mainstream.
As the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out, I’m hopeful for the future. But what’s going to happen to the state of side hustling?
There are three reasons I’m convinced that side hustles are here to stay.
1. People will continue choosing convenience
Before the pandemic hit, grocery delivery was a luxury for most Americans. Why pay that much more for groceries when you could go to the store yourself? But as soon as the pandemic hit, on-demand grocery delivery skyrocketed.
I don’t know if you remember the early days of the pandemic when you couldn’t get a same-day grocery order in. Well, Intstacart saw $700 million in orders in the first two weeks of April, an increase of 450% from December of the previous year.
To keep up with demand, Instacart hired 300,000 new shoppers between March and April. And It isn’t just Instacart—DoorDash, Postmates, and Shipt are seeing higher than average orders. On my site, I started seeing increased traffic to articles about driving for delivery services, and a lot of my friends in the personal finance blogosphere were seeing the same thing.
Having your groceries delivered directly to your doorstep is a matter of public safety now, and at the same time, it became one of the most popular side hustles to turn to in 2020.
I imagine the public safety need has pushed many reluctant consumers into a new world of on-demand grocery shopping. They got a crash course in how to order online, how the apps work, and how to interact with their shoppers.
Early studies suggest online grocery shopping will keep many customers in a post-pandemic world. Online ordering isn’t just a good pandemic mitigation strategy, it’s legitimately easier and more convenient than going grocery shopping on your own.
So who’s going to keep up with the delivery needs? Side hustlers most likely, unless grocery stores implement their own delivery services. Even then, it’s possible grocery stores will utilize self-employed workers in the same way restaurants have embraced companies like DoorDash and Grubhub.
2. Freelance numbers started increasing before the pandemic
According to Upwork’s annual Freelancing in America study, 57 million Americans were freelancing in 2019. That’s a massive shift from 2014 when there were 4 million fewer freelancers. Freelancing has become an increasingly mainstream and respected way to make extra money or even earn a living.
If you have marketable skills—digital marketing, writing, web development, etc.—freelancing can be a very lucrative side hustle.
On the other side, freelancing allows companies, big and small, to hire top talent without the cost associated with traditional employment. Freelancers are a cost-effective solution for business owners.
Freelancing has died down in some industries, like creative and performing arts, during the pandemic, and that’s to be expected. But overall, freelancing has stayed a promising option for side hustle work, and some freelance fields have even accelerated during the pandemic, like mathematical modeling, web and game development, and e-commerce specialists.
I expect to eventually see changes to freelance work after the pandemic. States like New York and New Jersey have seen legislation in the past couple of years trying to protect the rights of gig workers, and you can’t forget about what’s been happening with California’s Prop 22.
While it’s unclear exactly how the pandemic will change freelance work in the long term, we can look to what happened during the 2008 financial crisis for some clues for the near future. During the recession, cash-strapped companies began to rely heavily on freelancers because they were cheaper than W-2 employees. This helped freelance work become a respected and viable career path.
3. People will need to play catch up with their finances
The reality of this pandemic is that unemployment is at an all-time high. 900,000 Americans filed first-time jobless claims in January, and 18.4 million Americans are receiving some form of government unemployment benefit.
People are finding all kinds of ways to tighten their budget because of job loss. The Pew Research Center found that 2.6 million young adults moved back in with their parents in 2020. The last time we saw that kind of peak was during the Great Depression.
Cutting your living expenses is a really good way to tighten your budget if you’ve lost your job, and it’s advice I’ve given my readers. But the truth is that eventually, you get to the point when you’ve exhausted all your options.
One strategy is to stop prioritizing debt repayments and focus on building savings. Focusing on savings instead of debt isn’t conventional personal finance advice, but it’s understandable with so much job uncertainty.
What happens after you’ve cut your budget as much as possible and have drained your savings? It’s a dangerous path that can eventually lead to a lot of debt, and we can’t forget about student loans hanging out in limbo right now too.
However, one of the best alternatives to help with a short-term need and long-term recovery is to find ways to make extra money, aka the side hustle.
I’ve seen a major shift in what content ranks on my site. Readers want to learn more about making money and less about budgeting. This makes a lot of sense right now, and it’s why there’s increased interest in side hustles like food delivery services, taking online surveys, running Facebook ads for small businesses, and freelancing.
This is a scary thought, but considering that it’s expected to take several years before the economy recovers from the pandemic-related job loss, Americans will be side hustling to catch up on their finances for years to come.
A few years ago side hustling was thought of as this brand new, Millennials-only concept. It’s how we afforded all of our lattes and avocado toast, right? But the reality is that people have always been finding ways to make extra money.
Whether you’re driven to get rid of your mortgage, pay off your student loan debt, or retire early, people have always been motivated to hustle.
I’ve been writing about side hustles on my blog for the last five years because I legitimately believe they offer more options than budgeting alone when you want to make any kind of big money move.
Side hustles help when you’re out of work or trying to get back on track with your finances, but side hustling isn’t new.
We’re probably going to see a shift in the kinds of side hustles and the way the companies handle new forms of work (remote work, freelancing, etc.). And I expect that will only keep side hustling alive well into the future.