TaskRabbit: The US Economy Really is in the Pooper

I ran across TaskRabbit, which matches you with people who can run your errands for you–or hooks you up with people who need errands run–while reading this excellent Wall St. Journal article on work-at-homers. With TaskRabbit, you put up a task, price it, and a “runner” (errand runner, rabbit, person who does your errands) picks it up, usually within 30 minutes. Once the task is complete, you pay and rate your runner.

There are currently around 300 runners, most of whom earn around $15 per errand, according to the WSJ. Most runners are self-employed, unemployed, or work-at-home parents. TaskRabbit currently operates in Boston and San Francisco, but is looking to expand.

Recent tasks on the website include:

$10 – give me + a few things a ride
$25 – Pick up Jacket left at Fillmore Theatre
$15 – pick up rent check in downtown SF, drop off on Piedmont Ave. in Oakland

I understand that a service like TaskRabbit is helping create jobs and all, but let me rant for a moment. In many less-developed countries, it’s really easy to find someone nearby to get something done for you–whatever you need, really. When I lived in Ghana, we had a lady come to our door and sell us bread; we had our laundry done whenever we wanted by a nearby man; if we wanted something fixed in our rooms, we just had to put word out and a guy would arrive with a hammer and toolbox and take care of it. We’d pay them cash in return. It was convenient and effective.

But here’s the clincher: “developing country.” Are things really so bad here in the States that wealthy people are employing the unemployed masses on command, to run errands for a little change? Worse yet, have all those transactions on record so that they can be taxed? As neat and effective as TaskRabbit is, I can’t help but see it as symbol of our own society’s economic degredation. There aren’t enough jobs to go around, so those of us who are better off are employing “the help” through the Internet.

Somebody please give me a good reason that we’re not in another Depression.

  • ak4

    With TaskRabbit, you put a task, price, and a “corridor” (second message, rabbit, person doing errands) picks it up, usually within 30 minutes. After completing the task, and the rate you pay your broker. Taskrabbit http://usspost.com/taskrabbit-14170/

  • Sad indeed. And perhaps we are in another depression.

    However, I do see this as market forces at work. It is supply and demand. When I worked in a cubicle, there were times I couldn’t get away. Running these types of errands in some cities really can eat up a lot of time. I could’ve used TaskRabbit.

    Now the self-employed, under-employed, and un-employed can pick up some extra money this way. The flexible jobs come in handy and if you have an extra hour or two, what the heck. It sounds like a good way to make some bucks.

    You do bring up an interesting part about the taxes though. If this was just an agreement between 2 parties, there wouldn’t be any taxes. Having it all centralized and tracked makes it pretty hairy. Would this be between 2 parties where it’s less than $300/qtr. or would you be receiving a “paycheck” from TaskRabbit?

    That would be an accounting nightmare if you asked me.

  • I agree with Scott. TaskRabbit taps into the latent potential of existing physical communities by optimizing the distribution of labor. While the low prices people are currently willing to charge for their time can be interpreted as an indicator of the state of the economy, the site is a long term win for the economy. If work can be more efficiently distributed to those who are most suited for it, total productivity will increase which results in a combination of greater wealth and/or increased free time spread throughout the population. Also keep in mind that fully employed people who have learned from the downturn that they should build their savings could become runners in order to supplement their incomes. Bloggers like Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich strongly advocate secondary sources of income.

    If you want to take TaskRabbit for a spin and decide for yourself, use promo code PAL18755 to get $10 off your first task.

  • Travis

    The fact that people will pay 25 dollars to pick up a jacket shows we are nowhere near a depression. People always want to see the worst in a situation. A depression will hit everyone a lot harder than this. Right now, the unemployment rate is so high because of the unskilled labor sector. In a depression, ALL sectors are hit hard and you won’t find a person with money doing this.

  • GreenMan

    We are in a New Economy that lies between a recession and a depression, with some of the characteristics of each. While a downward adjustment on the profligate lifestyle of piggish Americans was long overdue (we are not entitled to wasteful use of the entire planet’s resources) and would never have been achieved voluntarily (conspicuous consumption is our national religion), the concommitant hyperdeflation of US asset values in many sectors and the massive loss of decent paying jobs all point to the negative side effects of Globalism. Economists, the high priests of Economic Globalism, tell us that outsourcing good paying jobs “increases the productive efficiency of our national economy” – easy for them to say since they are in the financial services sector that can play casino with our savings, investments and real estate assets without fear of serious consequences. For the white collar & blue collar middle class, it means a hypererosion of economic stability, predictability and long-term sustainability. Whether it is PhD’s or parents with law degrees working at Walmart or engineers applying for fastfood service jobs, the US economy is indeed in the dumpster right now. It is helpful to remember that Barack Obama got elected Captain of the Titanic well after the Bush Administration ran it into the iceberg. Indeed, a succession of well-to-do, privileged white men have been running the country since its inception, so if it is sinking in debt please point your finger at a succession of administrations who have abandoned sensible trading, fiscal and monetary policies that maintain the long-term health of the entire nation in favor of short-term special interest corporate profits. That said, however, this economic correction is essential to moving our country in the right direction on so many issues where greed has prevailed over wisdom. It is China that thanks American Greed for fueling its explosive economic growth with unbridled consumer lust and heedless indebtedness. DebtRabbit has yet another 0% APR credit card for you – are you interested?

  • Drea

    Great comments, everyone. Scott–you’re right, this is the market at work. It’s comforting to know that the market still does work, adapting to societal circumstance to fill niches. Media gloom sometimes convinces me that it’s all engineered, but you’re absolutely right to make that point.

    Laura–also true, secondary sources of income can be crucial to building wealth. If you’re self-employed and sit in front of a computer all day like me (*cough*), running errands for people for money would actually be a welcome break.

    Travis–I would imagine that even during a depression, there would still be elites who would want to garner services. Would you say those elites would be so few and far between that a mainstream service like TaskRabbit wouldn’t even be relevant?

    Alan–I like your big picture view of things. It is indeed a correction. Let’s hope our leaders don’t steer us into autarky or some other such economic malady through poor policies.

  • austin

    I disagree with your rant here. It’s tapping in on a market that craigslist started to but this time with safe and legit people. When I was a student I used to be highly interested in little odd jobs. However, there simply wasn’t the technology to link me to all of the opportunities. It’s like how craigslist displays jobs. All the jobs you see aren’t necessarily a sign of the economy, but rather it’s simply a place to aggregate all of these needs in one place and link them with the right people. People will always need help moving or running errands. Now it’s just really convenient to get that help. A very creative idea indeed.