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Utah's Gig Economy Hit Hard By Coronavirus

Photo of a sign that says airbnb on the outside of a building
Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine via Flickr
Airbnb reservations are looking much different from previous years, and hosts are lowering prices in anticipation of a season of low-budget vacations.

More than 14,000 gig workers and self-employed people have applied for unemployment in Utah over the past two weeks, including people working for ridesharing apps and Airbnb. 

Sarah Brown is an Airbnb host and manages 17 properties in Park City. She said when Summit County issued its stay at home order March 15, she stopped renting her properties.

Brown said she has some savings but is still worried about paying her employees. 

“But our most important thing is putting those cleaners back to work, because they're the ones that are hit the hardest,” Brown said. “So I'm struggling to pay bills, my partner struggling to pay her bills, but we can at least feed our families.”

Brown applied to multiple government programs for payroll protection, but said she has not received any funding yet. 

At the start of May, Utah moved from the high to moderate risk level of its pandemic response, and Brown said the types of reservations she gets look different now.

“This is going to be the summer of staycations and driving,” she said. “We are not anticipating many people flying. So what this means is people are more budget conscious, lower prices, closer, within four hours.”

Brown said her properties are renting for 60% of the price they went for last year. 

Meanwhile Chryssy Cerry, who drives for Lyft, also made a fraction of her usual income. Cerry drives around the Salt Lake City area. She has given almost 40,000 rides in her three years driving. 

But when the pandemic started she went from around 120 trips a week down to four, and it has been difficult ever since. Now, she barely breaks even with what she spends on gas. 

“I'm used to making about $2,000 a week,” Cerry said. “$45 is what I made the very last week I was working. I remember sitting for eight hours and not a simple ping.”

Cerry applied for unemployment, but said she has not received any money and is waiting to hear back from the payment protection program. 

And because Cerry has underlying health issues, she is concerned about when she will be able to drive again.

Jessica Lowell is KUER’s news intern. Follow her on Twitter @Jess_Lowell

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