Sprinting to Get Gig Workers Unemployment Benefits

by Adrian Haro, on March 31, 2021 at 8:57 PM

We’re happy to announce the product of our latest Design Sprint focused on increasing power for gig workers by easing the headaches around securing unemployment benefits.

What Problem is the Design Sprint Working to Solve?

As many people know, an unemployment check is critical for workers who have lost jobs through no fault of their own. And the pandemic illustrated that in surprising ways. In particular, The Workers Lab saw how forcefully the pandemic hit gig workers, who include everyone from domestic workers and farm workers to Uber drivers and grocery deliverers. Yet even though the government offered unemployment to gig workers for the first time ever last year, government leaders struggled delivering those unemployment checks to gig workers quickly, accurately, and fairly. 

Our unemployment insurance system was designed largely to serve workers in traditional nine-to-five jobs, and it has historically excluded people in non-traditional work such as “gig work,” which remains largely in the hands of people of color. Traditionally, employers are on the hook to report what workers earn to the government so that officials can verify what’s submitted on an application. That doesn’t happen with gig workers. That means the burden to organize and report income data falls on workers, which is uniquely burdensome since gig workers are often paid by multiple sources in one day to make ends meet. It also means that workers have to patch together things like bank statements, app screenshots, and spreadsheets to try to report income and get the government proof of their work.

For government leaders, who I believe are really trying their best given the circumstances, processing unemployment benefits for gig workers has often been marked by confusion, haste, and inefficiency that has sometimes led to threats of fraud. The result has been millions of gig workers waiting months without being able to provide for their families. Some have received far less than they deserved and some have been outright denied because the system can’t make sense of what the workers are owed.

What is Your Solution?

Our purpose at The Workers Lab is to give new ideas that increase power for workers a chance to succeed. So we’ve set out to do just that, and fast. We’ve teamed up again with our trusted partner Steady to help them develop and test a tech solution that gets at this challenge of verifying income from gig work and paves the way for government leaders to more easily deliver timely and accurate unemployment benefits to gig workers.

Here’s how our tech solution helps gig workers and government leaders:

  1. Gig workers go to a state website set up by Steady. They consent to safely and securely link the Steady app to their gig platform and financial accounts for the sole purpose of receiving unemployment benefits.
  2. Steady’s cutting-edge tech (already tested and used by 3 million workers and major financial institutions) analyzes and organizes all sources of income from gig work.
  3. Gig workers receive from Steady a streamlined income report  ready to submit to the state - and ready for state employees to understand.
  4. The state analyzes and verifies income from gig work with substantially greater ease, accuracy,  efficiency, and integrity.
  5. Gig workers get their unemployment benefits faster and more accurately.


One of the great things about our solution is that it has been built with the help of gig workers, including the invaluable support of Philadelphia Legal Assistance and workers from the Philadelphia Drivers Union. Our partners there used, tested, and informed the development of the technology so that it addressed their problems, rather than creating new ones.

What’s Next?

Our next hope and expectation is to partner with a state to do the same: To demonstrate that government can innovate not only to make gig workers’ lives easier today, but also to make our unemployment insurance system more equitable, accessible, and inclusive of workers that have historically been excluded. That’s what good government does. It takes care of people. And we want to help.

Join Us for a Presentation About Unemployment Benefits for Gig Workers

Later this month I will be joined by Adam Roseman, CEO of Steady, and Monique Baptiste, Vice President of Global Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase to talk about progress on this Design Sprint so far. Please join us at our live briefing on Tuesday, April 27.

Topics: Design Sprint| Learning Hub