Uber drivers are earning 53% less than they did in 2013

The report outlines some bleak numbers for drivers who work for ride-hailing apps like Lyft and Uber, though those companies don't quite agree with the researchers' methodology.

  • A new report suggests earnings have been steadily falling for drivers with companies like Uber and Lyft
  • Uber suggests the results are misleading because they don't examine hourly earnings
  • However, other reports suggest that even hourly earnings for ride-sharing drivers are often comparable to minimum wage

Drivers for apps like Uber and Lyft are, as a whole, earning significantly less money compared to a few years ago, according to a new study from the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

The study examined 38 million payments made through 128 online platforms, which also included leasing apps like Airbnb, to 2.3 million distinct Chase checking accounts between October 2012 and March 2018.

It showed that, between 2013 to 2017, the average monthly payments to drivers who worked for a transportation app in a given month declined from $1,469 to $783, a decrease of 53 percent.

Why are driver wages apparently declining? The study offers several reasons, including drivers working fewer hours, lower trip prices, decreased rider demand and increased driver supply, and platforms paying drivers lower rates.

However, the study didn't examine hourly wages, but rather looked at "only their product, earnings."

A different perspective from Uber and Lyft

Uber says this makes the results misleading.

In a blog post, Libby Mishkin, a senior economist at Uber, notes that the number of total drivers with the company increased from 160,000 in 2014 to 900,000 in 2018. Most of those drivers only work part time. In fact, the study found that, among people paid by ride-sharing services in a given year, 58 percent of drivers earned money in just three or fewer months.

Uber says the number of its occasional drivers is growing, which lowers total monthly earnings statistics.

"The distinction between monthly and hourly average earnings in this context is an important one: if the share of our partners who drive only occasionally has increased over time, as it has, it stands to reason that the average of every driver's monthly (or, for that matter, weekly or yearly) earnings would decrease," wrote Mishkin.

"In our view, a more appropriate metric for evaluating earnings among the diverse and evolving group of drivers would be average hourly earnings, which according to academic research produced in partnership with Professor Alan Krueger of Princeton and John Horton of NYU have remained stable over time."

A spokesperson for Lyft echoed a similar sentiment.

"The fact that this study did not examine hourly earnings, the metric that drivers care most about, has resulted in misleading headlines," the spokesperson said. "Many more drivers are choosing to earn with Lyft on a part-time basis, often fewer than ten hours per week, and they tell us they truly value the flexibility Lyft provides."

How much do Uber drivers earn hourly?

A pair of studies from 2018 provide an idea of how much an Uber driver earns by the hour.

One study, published in February from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, found that the median profit of Uber drivers was $8.55 to $10 an hour. (Note: The study authors arrived at this figure after revising their findings.)

Another study, from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., showed that Uber drivers earn 24.77 in hourly passenger fares. However, after accounting for vehicle expenses, health insurance and Uber's commissions and fees, drivers earn just $9.21 in hourly wages–an amount comparable to the minimum wage of many states.

Again, Uber criticized the report, suggesting it doesn't factor in "the flexibility drivers tell us they value and cannot find in traditional jobs."

In any case, both Uber and the recent JPMorgan Chase study seem to agree that most drivers for ride-sharing companies are working to supplement a more traditional income.

"...we do not find evidence that the Online Platform Economy is replacing traditional sources of income for most families," reads the JPMorgan Chase study. "Taken together, our findings indicate that regardless of whether or not platform work could in principle represent the "future of work," most participants are not putting it to the type of use that would usher in that future."

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

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Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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