Driving for Uber, Lyft, DoorDash As a Single Parent

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Some single parents told Business Insider that they’re struggling to pull in enough to care for their kids.
Alexander Nemenov/Getty Images; Jenny Chang-Rodriguez/BI

  • Single parents are struggling to make ends meet as drivers for gig platforms.
  • Economic instability, lack of benefits, and high childcare costs are major pain points for parents.
  • Many feel stuck in these roles but cannot find accommodating positions elsewhere.

Bri, 40, is struggling to feed her four kids. The single mom in Fort Worth, Texas, drives for DoorDash, Walmart Spark, and the restaurant delivery service Skipcart and makes just $400 a week on average after expenses — nowhere near enough to comfortably pay all her bills.

Bri faced cancer in her early 30s and fractured her knee while working at an Amazon warehouse in 2022, developing osteoarthritis. After leaving her job, she got accepted to DoorDash — but still remains waitlisted from Grubhub and Uber Eats — and when she started, she made about $800 a week.

“In this economy, I couldn’t afford to feed my children,” Bri, who asked to use only her first name for fear of professional repercussions, told Business Insider. “I applied for every delivery app I could think of.”

Her children get breakfast and lunch from school but don’t qualify for Medicaid or food stamps. She said it’s nearly impossible to drive the number of hours she needs to while caring for her kids, especially when pursuing a degree in data analytics.

“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,” said Bri, who said her income dropped after she lost her Top Dasher status she suspects for taking a week off.

Bri is one of many single parents who rely on gig work to make ends meet instead of struggling to balance a 9-to-5 job while paying for childcare or taking their kids to and from school.

Gig-driving companies, including Uber and Lyft, have previously told BI they are committed to improving the driver experience. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said at a February event a week after a Valentine’s Day strike that drivers had been undervalued and that the company had been working to earn their loyalty.

“The drivers saw us as a platform that was dependable for them, that listened to them, and was fair,” he said. “But the nature of the earner economy and flexible earnings is that you have to re-earn that loyalty every single day.”

In February, Lyft announced it would guarantee weekly earnings for drivers at 70% or more of what riders paid after accounting for external fees such as local taxes and government-mandated extra insurance. Lyft noted separately that the typical US driver made about $23 per engaged hour after expenses.

Lyft has said about 15% of their drivers do not pull in 70% or more of their weekly rider payments. Though Uber hasn’t announced any specific policies, Uber said in November the typical US driver earned about $33 per engaged hour before driving expenses. Still, drivers say these rates are not enough, given they sometimes have to wait half an hour or more to get a ride.

BI spoke with eight gig drivers who are single parents about juggling driving as their main income source while raising kids alone. All commented that driving has become more challenging over the past few months amid heightened competition, lower rates, and rising maintenance costs.

Some have transitioned to more stable employment, while others are going to school to change careers. Most asked to use just their first names for fear of professional repercussions, though their full identities are known to BI.

Flexibility can be an illusion

Most single parents with whom BI spoke said they valued the flexibility gig work gives them. Most said they drive while their kids are at school or day care or after they go to sleep. Some single parents with disabilities said being able to take days off has helped them stay healthier and avoid burnout. One parent added the work felt more fulfilling than their past desk job and helped them avoid loneliness.

Susan, a single mom in Ohio, said that though she’s experienced burnout from driving for Uber, setting her own hours has been appealing. She said driving works for her as a side hustle and she encourages drivers to understand their market better.

However, Lindsey Cameron, an assistant professor of management at the Wharton School who studies algorithms and the gig economy, told BI that some who rely financially on these platforms face an illusion of schedule flexibility since many drivers still work long hours at high-demand times.

“Single parents are in more precarious economic positions, and you’re doing a type of work that doesn’t have the same social welfare benefits. You don’t have workers comp and unemployment protections,” Cameron said.

Cindy Lehnhoff, director at the National Child Care Association, said skyrocketing childcare costs have disproportionately impacted single parents, given that single-parent households typically have lower incomes than two-parent homes. This means that a higher percentage of single parents’ earnings goes toward childcare costs, pushing some away from using childcare entirely.

“If you’re a parent making right at the median income but definitely over the poverty line, and let’s take, for example, you’re a parent and you have the ability to make $50,000 a year, that you have an infant and your childcare is $12,000 of that, you are looking at, well over 20% for childcare,” Lehnhoff said. “It’s a huge amount of your income when they have to feed their family and pay rent, and right now, rent everywhere has risen up.”

Bryant Greening, cofounder of LegalRideshare, a law firm dedicated to accident and injury claims for ride-hailing drivers, said drivers drawn in by gig work’s flexibility are often not told how expensive gig driving can be if things go wrong, which could have huge impacts on single parents in particular.

“These fluctuations and discrepancies can be devastating to individuals who don’t have other mechanisms to make money, including single parents who are often operating on a single income,” Greening said.

Gig driving is particularly challenging for parents of young children

Starla, 27, sometimes drives 16 to 18 hours a day for Uber Eats, Amazon Flex, and other apps to make enough for her and her eight-year-old in Jacksonville, Florida. She said she couldn’t find more stable work in her area to accommodate her schedule raising her kid.

“As a single mom, it’s hard finding a regular job with limited availability to give to a company,” Starla said. “Although I have so much experience and attended college, companies do not even hesitate to say no because I can’t provide eight hours during the day.”

She said the job is rewarding and allows her to spend more time with her daughter, though she’s spending twice or three times as much time on the road to pull in her target income amount compared to two years ago. She can’t afford steady childcare for her daughter and donates blood plasma each week for extra income.

“I had to pick up multiple other side gigs to afford to stay on my feet,” Starla said. “Although it isn’t a ‘full-time job’ or ‘in a proper setting,’ it’s still hard taking on four different jobs, working 16-18 hours a day on top of pick up and drop offs to school.”

Gig driving has some financial drawbacks that are particularly burdensome for single parents. Genesis, a single mom in Atlanta, worked nearly every day in 2022 to make over $103,000 that year, but tax records show she only took home around $19,000. This was her total after Uber and Lyft commissions, taxes, and expenses such as new tires, oil changes, gas, and car part replacements.

The 33-year-old has relied on gig driving to bring in income, driving around her kids’ schedules. Her truck amassed 452,000 miles, and she noticed it became much harder to make the amount she needed. That’s because, as dozens of drivers have told BI over the last few months, an increase in the number of gig drivers has created more competition and pushed prices down.

She’s now working toward a career in the entertainment industry.

“I feel like the whole system is just messed up,” Genesis said. “You can work jobs paying a minimum wage and can’t even pay your rent. You often need to have roommates to make a living out of the whole situation.”

It’s not easy for parents with older children

The issues single parents face still linger for those with older children. Paul, 44, a single father in the Las Vegas area, pulls in only a few hundred dollars a week driving for Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub. One week, he only pulled in about $200 despite being on the road for 38 hours, screenshots shared with BI show.

Paul worked in project management and operated businesses, which he closed at the pandemic’s start. He reactivated his real estate license, but he began gig driving to continue providing for his 20- and 17-year-old kids months after a debilitating injury.

Gig companies, including Uber and Lyft, have said they are committed to supporting drivers with disabilities through accessibility and antidiscrimination policies and resources for physical and mental disabilities.

He said for a few weeks, he worked 40 to 50 hours just to pay for his rental car from Uber. The price was over $1,500 last November, and he said he lost money after accounting for expenses that month. Screenshots show that many rides he received that month were only $2 to $3, and he’s begun to decline more non-profitable rides across the different platforms.

“Trust me, I want to be doing more for my children, I wish I could be,” said Paul, who had just finished nearly 40 hours of driving over two and a half days. “There’s no other option, and when there’s no one else to turn to, you got to just make it happen. It’s humbling, and it’s tough.”

Some older parents are just looking for some relief. Stormy, 48, a single mother of a 23- and 20-year-old, has driven predominantly for Uber since 2015 to supplement her Social Security Disability Insurance. She would drive at night after her kids went to sleep, and she would sleep while her kids were in school. She also would take early morning shifts with Amazon Flex, though she stopped in 2021 after a car crash.

Before the pandemic, she could drive three or four days and make a decent living. Now, pulling in similar amounts takes her about double the time. Last year, she made $60,000 in gross earnings, but after deductions and expenses, it amounted to $16,000 — still below the SSDI income maximum.

She said her acceptance and cancellation ratings fell slightly below the criteria for Uber Gold or Platinum, meaning she couldn’t take advantage of Uber’s partnership with Arizona State University to pursue a degree. Still, she’s searching for more stable work now that her kids are more grown up.

“It got easier as time went on, and now they’re old enough where they’re able to actually pitch into the household,” she said. “With everything going up and our wages going down, especially driving for Uber, it’s hard to do it on my own.”

Are you a ride-hailing driver who’s struggling to pay bills? If you’d like to share your story, reach out to

Correction: March 6, 2024 — An earlier version of this story misstated when Dara Khosrowshahi said Uber had been working to earn drivers’ loyalty. He made the remarks at an event after a strike in February, not during the strike.

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