Unemployed or underemployed? There's an app for that

In a digital twist on the age-old practice of paying people to do odd jobs for you, new smartphone apps like TaskRabbit and Postmates allow you to hire your own personal assistants -- to say, clean your home, buy your groceries or run errands.

Brad Stone has a pretty good full time job. He's a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek. But he's not above getting his hands dirty for a good story, as he did in this week's issue of the magazine. In a digital twist on the age-old practice of paying people to do odd jobs for you, people in cities around the country are plying their skills in, say, latte delivery and basic home repairs by answering instant ads on their smartphone.

The ads are pushed out by apps with names like TaskRabbit, Postmates and Cherry.

"They're putting little microjobs on their websites, on their apps on smartphones," Stone says. "They're trying to get workers to come clean houses or wash cars or put together Ikea furniture."

The people who do the jobs are part of a trend Silicon Valley is calling the "distributed work force." Participants -- the task rabbits -- bid on jobs, like 1 hour of house cleaning, or a bit of yard work. The task master selects someone based on the offered price, and their rating on the site.

Stone cleaned an apartment, weeded a yard, and collapsed boxes. "I made about $110 or $120, it wasn't bad, but at the end of the day I could hardly move."

And while it may boost the income of unemployed or underemployed urbanites, Stone says, he's not quitting his day job.

"I can say definitively I cannot make a living at it."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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