Hello, and welcome to the pandemic. My name is Lorin and I am a gig worker now facing income loss and uncertainty along with the rest of the world.
The thought of what could happen makes it hard for me to breathe, sending my mind to the worst-case scenario, leaving me either hyperventilating or crying. We have so many in our community who have trouble on a regular day. Now, things are dire.
I am a deejay who recently came off a yearlong break, and I clean houses. In the last week or so I have lost nearly $500 of my expected income — half from my first deejay gig after sabbatical, and half of that from cleaning. The $250 loss from cleaning is more than one-third of my weekly income.
Now, that income has gone to zero. I have decided to shutter my business for now. My only helper, a subcontractor who is amazing, will still do some work, and I will share half of the compensation for this article with him.
Writing this helped me understand it was time to shut down and minimize the danger for many I love, including my clients. Luckily, I have the privilege to do that, thanks to a supportive, employed husband.
Still, there is fear about the future. In my worklife, there is no such thing as a paid sick day, paid leave, insurance, or worker’s comp. I handle all accounting, taxes, marketing, scheduling, staffing, and inventory.
My business is variable. I clean for many families and people who have changing schedules themselves. It is rare that my projected income ends up being my actual income.
In any given week I have clients who cancel due to illness, changes in their children’s schedules or due to their own financial concerns. Or one of my kids might be sick, causing me to reschedule. All of those changes require a lot of logistics and budget adjustments. Week by week, day by day.
The flexibility, however, has been a wonderful thing over the years, being a mother and musician. But, during times like now, it can be nerve-wracking, and not just on a financial level.
Several of my clients are elderly, immunocompromised or both. My first goal in cleaning a home is to create order out of chaos, and to bring healing in whatever ways possible. (I do have a psychology degree, after all.)
But, during the past couple of weeks, what usually would have been a time to offer extra personal help became a time when I had to refuse to visit the most vulnerable of my clients. The most healing thing I could do was stay away.
Several of my other clients are teachers, restaurant and retail workers, and parents who are now home with their kids and under financial strain. A couple of clients have lost their jobs. Another had to cancel due to possibly being exposed to COVID-19.
Some just are not sure how this will change their income, so decided to suspend service. It was not advisable or affordable for them to have me visit.
There are some clients who could arrange to not be home, and still afford to pay me. For those, and any client whose homes I cleaned, I instituted gloves, extra sanitizing, and closer communication regarding state of health and whatever made everyone feel comfortable.
My usual day-before confirmation text included questions about symptoms or any other changes that may be relevant to the health of myself or my client. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends sanitizing door knobs, light switches, remotes, and more, and that became the normal routine.
A couple of clients said, “Please do not visit, but we will still pay you.” This was a rare and amazing thing. I didn’t expect it. I am so thankful.
I also cleaned a vacant home last week, which will help me make my car payment. But unlike many Memphians, I have a safety net — an employed husband who could make the payment. But it’s my responsibility, and the biggest bill of the ones I pay. I want to be able to contribute financially.
I’m also concerned about my subcontractor because several of his jobs have fallen through, and I worry whether he will have enough work.
While there is plenty of frustration and worry, I also know that I am lucky — no, privileged — in that I am educated, and my husband has a good job he can do from home.
At 46-years-old, I have the freedom to pick and choose my clients. I am capable of doing other work. I am not a bartender who suddenly has no customers or a grocery or other retail worker who is being exposed to all of our germs. I am not an elderly or infirm person on a fixed income, who has no transportation and no extra money to stock up.
I also am not the woman I once was — a single mother who is responsible for everything. If this had happened a decade ago, I would be absolutely bereft.
I would have lost my rental within a month, would be running out of food and faced with having my then 6-year-old son go hungry. Now, that son is 16 and has a 7-year-old brother helping to eat up the food.
Right now, that woman I once was is heavy on my mind. So is my immunocompromised mother, who I had to quarantine several times before she died, and others like her. They guide my decisions.
I hope they will guide yours.
If you’re a worker in the Memphis area whose income has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, MLK50 wants to hear from you. Answer a few questions on this form; selected workers will be compensated $200 for published essays.
This story is brought to you by High Ground News and MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Southern Documentary Project at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the American Journalism Project, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and Community Change.