First Person

I Couldn’t Spend Money Like My Classmates. So I Tried To Eat Like Them.

The biggest culture shock I ever experienced was not when I moved from the U.S. to the U.K., but when I moved from the South to Southern California. I was not prepared for the food and everything I didn’t realize it would represent when it came to race, class, and fatphobia — and how much that had permeated my own thinking in ways I never realized.

My earliest memories of food are complex. I remember the rush of adrenaline and the pound of my heartbeat as I yanked daffodils from their cool flowerbeds nestled to the side of what looked like an abandoned house. Selling them to houses on another street, sliding scale, I could afford more than just my standard free lunch when my texture sensitivities made everything available impossible to eat. It also meant not spending an afternoon pushing the “Coin Return” buttons on the vending machines in the recreation center, a less embarrassing way of begging for change.

I remember clearly the free breakfast I had each morning, usually Cinnamon Toast Crunch with chocolate milk out of a small plastic bowl. The vegetables I grew up eating were in cans due to the cost, boiled and buttered because I was Southern.

Food became a symbol of love in certain family rituals, such as the fried bacon, cheese biscuits, eggs, and grits that would line the table every Sunday morning at my great-grandmother’s house. I sought after Lunchables and Hershey bars like Fendi bags. Over-processed foods that are now described as “cheap” were luxuries. Salad was iceberg lettuce that had no flavor until you covered it with ranch dressing.

But then the family I knew fractured, split, and drifted apart, and at 15 I moved to San Diego, California and immediately noticed more than just my usual sense of otherness.

The people talked different. There were no seasons. I was made fun of for saying “y’all” and began to curb the strength of what I thought was a weak Southern accent in comparison to my family. The city I moved to was very wealthy. I found this out awkwardly when I went to a classmate’s house to complete a project on existentialism (ironic) and their pool house was as big as the small apartment I lived in. I had always assumed that because I had a computer, I was “middle class” and this city taught me otherwise.

But the most striking difference? The color of the vegetables that were nothing like the bland, boring isles of pale green that I grew up around, where the fanciest thing about the aisles was the automatic water mister. The vegetables in San Diego had real color. And they crunched when you bit into them.

I, at first, found this repulsive. But my Virgoean craving for self-improvement pushed me to accept the challenge. But food was and is never just food. It is always symbolic.

As I was surrounded by very thin people who did things like “cleanses” and very wealthy classmates who complained they got the wrong color Hummer for Christmas, meanings began to shift. Fried chicken livers no longer represented a quirky side of my Southern upbringing, the way I know haggis is connected to Scotland. Instead they were inextricably linked to poor, fat, uneducated white people.

Society links fatness to ignorance and stupidity.

Society links fatness to ignorance and stupidity. The comic image of the white poor, the people I came from, is always fat and eating “unhealthy” foods with the same voracity that they hate gays or illegal immigrants. I didn’t want to be one of them. I couldn’t spend like my classmates, so I instead tried to eat like them. Kale represented cleanliness, in both mind and body, and I wanted to fill the gap I shoved between myself and my Southern heritage with Jamba Juices. My intimate connection to poverty grew more and more obvious, like a pox mark, and I thought the best way to shed this image was to shed pounds.

I viewed fat and grease in foods as pathogens of a poor, white and ignorant outlook that would infect me if I consumed them. That’s when my obsession with becoming healthier to disassociate myself from the poverty and fatness of my background in the same way I now masked my Southern accent in class became just that: an actual obsession. It’s a lot easier to motivate yourself to diet obsessively if you believe it will lead you to a better mind as well as a better body. And when people believe that being poor and fat goes hand-in-hand with being a racist, you’re even more motivated to do an extra crunch.

Weight is a perfect poison for anxiety because the results are never immediate and simply avoiding eating altogether is not a lifelong, sustainable option. I used to count the number of chews — 20 — I took with each bite to make sure that I never choked. Now I counted every single possible calorie. In the process, food and life became joyless.

I can’t tell you when my moment of clarity came and, in truth, I still struggle to shed the idea that thinness represents health. Perhaps it was realizing when my now more academic way of speaking made people read me as “nicer” than others. The jokes white liberals make about “hillbilly” incest and inbreeding right in front of me because they assume I’m one of them feel like daggers in my back.

There are and probably will continue to be a lot of poor, fat, racist white people. There are also thin, wealthy, white racist people. When I stopped distancing myself from the trappings — namely food — of Southern culture, I realized that being poor has given me an understanding of life and the way the world works that no amount of kombucha will give a Goop fanatic. And that those white people who draw fat white people as racist and ignorant are dissociating themselves from their own white supremacy. They are not actually addressing anti-Blackness as they continue to ignore the systemic causes of poverty.


First Person

I Paid 118 Percent on a Payday Loan. The Administration Is Canceling Efforts to Rein Them In.

There was a moment in my life where it felt as if everything that could go wrong went wrong — and all at the same time.

I had just started a new job. My household went from two incomes to just one, and we were definitely starting to feel it. The mortgage was due, all of the regular household bills and responsibilities were still there, and my son still needed money to cover school and sports expenses.

I managed to use the remainder of my savings to pay everything, but I was still $500 short for my mortgage payment. I was stressed out, trying my best to make ends meet and keep some normalcy in my son’s life. I knew I had a paycheck coming, but it would not arrive in time to avoid all of the late fees and the credit hit for being 30 days late on my mortgage.

I reached out to my bank to see if I could get a small loan and was denied due to not having a high enough credit score. I had one credit card with a very small limit, but it was pretty much maxed out, so I couldn’t take out a cash advance.

I also didn’t want to borrow money from my friends and family because that would be admitting all was not well in my household. Also, I had no desire to answer the many questions that would come if I asked to borrow that much money.

While driving my mom to one of her doctor’s appointments, I saw a large green sign that seemed to be the answer to my problems: Fast cash now, no credit checks, walk out with up to $500 today.

It seemed worth exploring so I went in and asked what was needed. I was told all I needed was an active checking account, a copy of my bank statement, and proof of employment. I could get all those things with no problems.

After retrieving the necessary items, I went back, filled out the application, signed on the dotted line, and walked out of the door with $500 cash in my hand about 30 minutes later.

I felt as though my problems had been solved. I had the amount necessary to finish covering that month’s necessary expenses. I had a paycheck coming and I would be able to cover the payment on the loan. Crisis over, right?

That feeling lasted all of two weeks. I quickly realized that although I had a paycheck coming, my household’s financial situation was the same. We were still solely depending on my income, and the amount of our bills covering essentials hadn’t changed. So not only did I still have to continue paying for those things, now I had a loan payment to cover as well.

I had actually added to the expense pile.

Recently, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — which is supposed to be the nation’s consumer watchdog — proposed removing a rule that would require lenders of payday, car title, and other high-cost installment loans to verify the borrower’s ability to pay back the loan. This is something every other lending institution does, engaging in credit checks, verifying income, and assessing if the borrower can actually pay. My experience, and those of others I’ve spoken with, shows why such a rule is so key.

When my paycheck hit the bank, the payday loan people were right there to take their cut. I managed what was left of my check and paid my bills. I needed to get this loan paid as soon as possible.

In order to pay the loan back quickly and not fall behind any of my regular expenses, I picked up a temporary second job. This meant less time at home being an engaged parent to my son, and I constantly felt tired and drained. I feel as though I missed a chunk of my and my son’s life working seven days a week and only being at home to sleep.

Granted, I could have gotten a second loan or rolled the first loan over, meaning paying an additional fee to delay paying back the original loan. I did not consider this option because it would not solve the problem. If the first loan was causing a strain on my finances, I definitely didn’t need to add to the debt. I just wanted to be done with it as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, I paid back my loan before the due date to avoid the additional interest and fees. I avoided the devastation that many others have experienced as the result of taking out these loans.

Doing the math, I discovered that I paid approximately 118 percent on that $500 loan.

In the 2018 election, Colorado passed Proposition 111, which put a 36 percent cap on the amount of interest and fees that payday lenders can charge borrowers. While working on the campaign for Proposition 111, I talked with others who had taken out multiple payday loans to assist with covering living expenses. In 2016, Colorado payday loan customers paid an average interest rate of 129 percent, costing them $119 in interest and fees. Nationally, more than 75 percent of payday loan fees come from borrowers who use 10 or more loans per year.

Doing the math, I discovered that I paid approximately 118 percent on that $500 loan. Had I realized that the interest and fees added to this amount, I would not have taken out this loan. I would have tried to negotiate and make payment arrangements, especially because my situation was temporary.

Most of the people I spoke with during the campaign were not able to pay their loans back and the results were devastating: Closed bank accounts because payday lenders continue to run checks through the account many times, resulting in ridiculous overdraft fees. Embarrassing collection calls to places of employment and family. Damage to credit scores. Garnishment of wages. The end result for many was filing for bankruptcy in order to stop the bleeding.

Many may think that payday lenders are offering assistance to those who cannot obtain financial assistance through traditional means such as bank loans, credit card cash advances, asking employers for pay advances, or loans from friends and family. In reality, these loans are predatory in nature. Payday lenders work to exploit hard-working people at their most vulnerable moments.

The CFPB’s provisions were established to protect borrowers from the harmful practices of payday lenders. Many people are living paycheck to paycheck, not because they can’t manage their money properly or are living an extravagant lifestyle, but because they simply had a temporary setback or an unplanned emergency. Seeking out a loan or financial assistance to get a moment of relief should not end in financial disaster.



How One Tribe Is Fighting for Their Food Culture in the Face of Climate Change

As in many tribal communities, the Swinomish relationship with the environment is complex. The Northwest coastal tribe not only uses the land for food, medicine, and material goods, but many cultural traditions like ceremonies are land-based.

The federal government has long attempted to sever tribes from the land — their source of knowledge, culture, and health. Through war and forced relocation, tribes were physically removed. Policies such as the 1887 General Allotment Act forced many to adopt sedentary lifestyles and use Western agricultural techniques. And contemporary legal restrictions on centuries old fishing, hunting, and gathering techniques means that tribes are still limited in how they can gather foods and medicines.

Food sovereignty — efforts to re-create local, sustainable, and traditional food systems that prioritize community need over profits — has been one of the major ways tribal communities are combating disparities driven by colonial policies. Food sovereignty looks different in every tribe, as it is based on community need and tribal tradition, and it isn’t just about food. Swinomish efforts have focused on the impacts of climate change, which is already threatening their community health.

History led many reservations to become food insecure, and federal support is limited. Hundreds of tribes utilize the Federal Distribution Program on Indian Reservations — which since 1973 has distributed bulk food items to rural Native Americans who don’t have access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-eligible stores — but the food often doesn’t meet basic dietary standards and sometimes arrives spoiled.

Loss of land and traditional foods has caused myriad health problems in tribal communities. Native Americans have the highest rates of diabetes of any racial group, as well as disproportionately higher rates of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Mental wellbeing has also been impacted: Some scholars argue that colonial violence like displacement and spiritual disconnection from the land has led to cross-generational trauma and unresolved grief for Native individuals and communities.

Climate change is making this worse.

Historically, the Swinomish harvesting calendar revolved around 13 moons. The calendar corresponds to seasonal shifts throughout the year, with each moon bringing a new set of ceremonies and foods to be collected and processed. The first moon of spring, moon when the frog talks, is when herring and smelt are harvested and sitka spruce, red cedar, and Oregon grape roots are collected. In the moon of the sacred time, during the end of December and January, cultural traditions are passed from elders to younger community members.

The seasonal changes associated with each moon are becoming less predictable with climate change. Extreme heat waves in the normally moderate climate stress plants and may stunt root development. Less predictable or extreme tides (whether too high or too low) hamper clam digging and other shorefront gathering.

Public health leaders, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, recognize that climate change has direct impacts on human health. These impacts may be even more acute for the Washington tribe: the reservation is 90 percent surrounded by water, and salmon, crab, and clam are major sources of food. The sea is of intimate importance.

Yet Western measurements of health and climate impact do not take cultural history, interdependence, and connection to the land and non-human world into consideration, often focusing exclusively on individual, physiological health impacts. For example, a toxicologist may look at pollutants in seafood and advise the Swinomish to eat less. Yet when taking into consideration food security, ceremonial use, and transmission of traditional knowledge, the removal of seafood would be detrimental to Swinomish conceptions of health; climate change is threatening the tribe’s autonomy.

To address this disconnect, in 2003, Dr. Jamie Donatuto, the environmental health analyst for the tribe, set out with elder Larry Campbell to develop indigenous health indicators, which they hoped would bring a more holistic and culturally relevant lens to public health policy, climate change predictions, environmental risk assessment, and the tribe’s food sovereignty work. After interviewing more than 100 community members, they determined the Swinomish health indicators to be: self-determination (healing and restoration, development and trust); cultural use (respect and stewardship, sense of place); natural resource security (quality, access, safety); resilience (self-esteem, identity, sustainability); education (teachings, elders, youth); and community connection (work, sharing, relations).

One of the first challenges they wanted to tackle using these indicators was climate change impacts. After gathering data on predicted storm surge, sea-level rise, sediment movement and more, they led a series of workshops with elders, youth, clam diggers, and fishers, to gauge which beaches they should focus their limited resources on. They identified several that were both culturally significant to the tribe and at high risk for climate impacts, and focused their workshops on traditional foods to contextualize these problems.

Swinomish food sovereignty and climate change adaptation efforts are reflective of national movements in Indigenous reclamation and resistance.

“It’s not about outreach, it’s not unidirectional. It’s about really engaging them,” Donatuto reflected. Now, based on community input, the tribe is developing clam gardens that are more resilient to climate impacts such as sea level rise, storm surge, and possibly ocean acidification. Clam gardens are a traditional way of managing a beach ecosystem to create optimal habitat for clams while ensuring food security for the tribe. Dr. Donatuto’s team also shared community feedback with the Swinomish Senate, who valued their priorities equally to scientific data when constructing the tribe’s climate change adaptation plan.

Beyond policy changes to address climate change impacts, elders were also concerned about a generational disconnect in traditional ecological knowledge. Using the 13 moons as a guide, in 2015 the tribe developed an informal curriculum to educate youth on the lunar calendar and traditional foods. Though it has attracted interest from local schools, Donatuto stressed that it is a land-based, community-led curriculum. The tribe hosts dinners and other events in which elders and educators lead community members outside to learn, for example, tree identification, how to collect tree resin, and how to process it. Participants not only learn about traditional foods, but learn it through traditional methods of knowledge transmission.

Swinomish food sovereignty and climate change adaptation efforts are reflective of national movements in Indigenous reclamation and resistance. Tribes recognize that in many cases, disparities that face Native communities are borne from and exacerbated by systemic colonial and racial violence, including the devaluation of Indigenous knowledge. So how could the same system that produced these disparities be a source of the solution?

Resistance and reclamation take many forms. The White Earth Band of Ojibwe recently recognized the “personhood” rights of wild rice in an effort to thwart oil pipeline construction through their habitat. Some tribal courts are beginning to draw from traditional gender and familial beliefs instead of U.S. federal law in domestic violence, divorce, and custody cases. And studies have found that Native students in schools that teach entirely in tribal languages are often higher performing than their counterparts that attend English-only schools, including on English language standardized tests.

As these and Swinomish efforts reflect: Revitalization of Indigenous knowledge, politics, and land relations is not just about remembering traditions, but solving urgent contemporary issues.




First Person

I Used My Credit Card to Keep the Heat On. It Took Five Years to Pay It Off.

Sometimes it seems like all everyone can talk about is student loans. It makes sense when more than 44 million Americans collectively hold nearly $1.5 trillion in student debt. The average student loan borrower has $37,172 in student loans, which is a $20,000 increase from 13 years ago.

What we aren’t talking about as often is credit card debt. Consumer debt recently exceeded $4 trillion for the first time, according to the Federal Reserve. The average American has a credit card balance of $4,293 and 1 in 3 people are afraid they’ll max out their credit cards when they make a large purchase (and most defined “large” as anything over $100).

Although research shows that young people are hesitant to take on credit card debt, one survey found that there are actually more older millennials who have outstanding credit card debt than have student loan debt. Millennials are also more likely to take out personal loans, which can be used for anything from consolidating existing debt to paying for a vacation or a wedding.

You might be thinking: Millennials can’t avoid student loan debt and a college education is worth it, but it’s downright irresponsible to take on so much credit card debt. Young people just don’t understand how credit works, or they don’t care.

The reality for many millennials with credit card debt is very different — I know, I used to be one of them.

I still remember how I felt when I picked up my mail from the box downstairs in our on-campus apartment my junior year and found my first offer to apply for a credit card, a Discover student card. I was both excited at the opportunity to manage my financial future and terrified that I would wind up trapped in a pile of debt I could never dig myself out of.

I knew that credit cards should always be used responsibly — that you should never spend money you don’t have, that it made the most sense to pay off your balance in full before the due date every month, that racking up debt could seriously damage my credit score. I also knew that in the first two years of college, I’d had to borrow money from friends more times than I could count because I needed textbooks or a bus ticket home when we were required to leave campus for breaks.

So I applied for the credit card, and within days I was approved and had a $500 credit line.

At first, I tried to manage the card responsibly, following the financial advice my dad gave me that he’d never had enough financial freedom to follow himself. I didn’t want to pay more money for items because I’d accumulated a bunch of interest. I would go to the mall with my roommates on the weekend and resist the urge to splurge on new clothes with money I didn’t have in cash or in my bank account. But it’s also exhausting constantly denying yourself happiness when you’re poor, so there were occasional times when I pulled out a credit card, like when we all went out to Japanese food to celebrate my roommate’s 20th birthday.

As I spent small amounts and paid them off quickly, Discover increased my available credit to $1,000 and sent me a free report showing that my score had improved. I remember thinking, maybe everything will be okay after all.

Then I went home for five weeks for winter break and found out my dad and I were in danger of having our heat, electricity, and internet shut off. We both pleaded with representatives on the phone to put us on a payment plan to no avail. He was a night shift cab driver who was having trouble working due to his disabilities, and he’d already been making significantly less money per month than he did before the recession because people couldn’t afford to take cabs anymore.

“I’ll pay the bills if you can pay me back at least some of it,” I offered. At school, I was living off a stipend thanks to grants and scholarships. I also had two on-campus tutoring jobs that paid a little more than minimum wage in Massachusetts, which gave me enough spending money to put gas in my car and pay my phone bill each month.

We needed heat through the winter, and I needed the internet to research summer jobs and internships and get started on my senior thesis. I paid our bills with my credit card and cringed when I saw my available credit start to disappear. One study found that 1 in 5 millennials are helping to financially support their aging parents, and giving their parents an average of $18,250 a year. One third of that financial assistance goes toward living expenses such as food and housing.

The reality is that being poor is expensive. Every time I’d just about caught up with the latest round of credit card charges — $150 here for an emergency car repair on my 1998 Buick Century, $50 there on a book that the professor didn’t put on the syllabus before the semester started, $200 to pay off overdue bills to help my dad — something else would come up.

I found another scammy credit card company that would give me a credit line of $400 in minutes with an APR of 29.9 percent.

And then, during the fall of my senior year, my dad suffered from a traumatic brain injury during an on-the-job car accident. While it had been difficult for him to work before, now it was nearly impossible. As a cab driver, he was an independent contractor, not an employee, so he didn’t have any of the protections employees can get, like paid medical leave or unemployment benefits. If he couldn’t work, he simply wasn’t paid. The meager stipend and part-time jobs I had weren’t enough to keep us both afloat in an emergency.

The credit card charges mounted. When things were getting really desperate and our heat was about to be turned off in the middle of winter again, I even applied for a predatory payday loan online. I was denied because my credit score had dropped thanks to my high balances. I sat in my bed, covered in as many blankets as possible, wondering how cold the apartment would get if we didn’t have heat. Eventually, after searching the internet, I found another scammy credit card company that would give me a credit line of $400 in minutes with an APR of 29.9 percent.

By the time I’d become too untrustworthy to qualify for another line of credit, I had almost $5,000 in credit card debt across six cards and no plans to pay it off. My highest interest rate was 30.49 percent. I barely survived my senior year of college and first year after graduation, making only the $25 and $35 minimum payments on each card respectively.

I was only able to start tackling my debt when I began working full-time and freelancing on the side. I was really fortunate that I lived with my partner, so we shared bills and expenses and helped each other out during tough financial situations. She graduated with more student debt than I did, including a couple of private loans, so our priorities were paying off her highest interest student loans and my predatory credit cards as soon as possible. She also understood my frustration with credit, as she fell into a similar trap with her credit card after she was suddenly laid off from her first post-college job.

With our two incomes, we finally had enough for necessities with some to spare. Every month, I would throw more than the minimum payment at my credit cards, starting with those with the highest interest rates and balances. Whenever I had an unexpected amount of money, like if I got more well-paying freelance work that month or I received a bonus at work, I’d funnel $200-500 into paying off another card.

In December 2018, I sent in the last payment to the first credit card I opened from Discover back in 2013. With that payment, I’d paid off all my credit cards in full. I never thought I’d sign in and see a $0 balance due again; I no longer have to worry about years of interest fees piling up on what was originally a $50 purchase. My credit score also improved (although marginally) and I’m finally in the average bracket instead of poor, an assessment that feels even more ironic when I think about the fact that I’ve been poor my entire life and I’m only now just catching up to middle class.

I’m still a little scared to use my credit cards now, even responsibly. Last month at the checkout at Target, I used my store credit card for the first time in years, saving 5 percent off my total purchase. When the balance popped up in my account in a few days, I paid it in full 10 days before the due date.



The Legal Loophole That Lets Companies Like Doordash Steal Tips, Explained

Popular courier services such as Instacart, Doordash, and Amazon Fresh have been making headlines recently with the news that they’re meeting minimum pay promises to drivers by cutting compensation and using tips to make up the difference. In other words, customers were tipping under the impression that drivers got tips on top of the delivery fee earned per trip, but instead, the companies subtracted the value of those “tips” from the payments that they had promised to workers — saving the company money, but cheating drivers. (Under pressure, Instacart recently reversed its policy.)

Why can these companies get away with such behavior, especially in states like Washington where the tipped minimum wage is illegal? The answer is that these workers aren’t employees. They’re independent contractors, and labor law for independent contractors is very different than it is for employees. As self-employed workers, they are entitled to fewer protections, but also, in theory, have a greater degree of freedom and control.

Some of those same workers argue they’re being misclassified by their employers and should actually be considered employees. This issue has been the subject of substantial litigation, as in 2016 when Uber was dinged for misclassifying workers in California and Massachusetts, and again in California in 2018, where workers won a suit against the delivery company Dynamex. Now some states, including California, are trying to fix the problem with new legislation.

Misclassification occurs when companies improperly categorize someone who functions as an employee as an independent contractor. Individual states and agencies have their own standards — as, for example, when deciding employment status for workers’ compensation purposes — and the IRS has its own 11-point standard. A much simpler rule was applied in the Dynamex case, though: The ABC test. The court found that to be considered an independent contractor, an employee must meet three criteria.

The first is freedom from control: Independent contractors decide how, when, and where they work, set the terms of their employment, and do not receive highly specific direction in the course of their work. The second is performance of work outside the company’s scope of business. In addition, the work reflects an established and independent trade or specialty in which the worker is “customarily engaged.” For example, a plumber is “customarily engaged” in work pertaining to installing, maintaining, and fixing plumbing.

In another example, a florist’s shop might hire a tax preparer as an independent contractor, relying on an expert who sets their own terms and schedule to do work that isn’t within the florist’s normal parameters of business. But if the florist hired someone to work in the store arranging flowers, that person would likely be considered an employee.

The rise of the “gig economy,” sometimes known as the 1099 economy in a reference to the tax forms used to report “miscellaneous” income for independent contractors, has highlighted the misclassification issue, but it’s not new. Misclassification has been a huge historic problem in the construction industry, as well as for domestic workers, janitors, truckers, and many others. Nearly 24 million workers labored as independent contractors in 2015 and only a small slice, around 1 percent, were “gig economy” workers.

For companies, there’s a clear advantage to relying on independent contractors: They’re much less expensive to maintain. Companies don’t have to pay unemployment insurance, workers’ comp, or payroll taxes. Overtime and minimum wage don’t apply, nor do state and local requirements around paid family or sick leave. Nor do they need to provide benefits such as paid time off, retirement funds, or health insurance.

Independent contractors assume all the risks of operating a business, which is sometimes by desire and design. Tax preparers and freelance journalists, for example, may prefer the flexibility of independent contracting, and companies with periodic specific needs that fall outside their normal work, like a company hiring experts for diversity and inclusion consulting, benefit from these kinds of independent contractors.

However, corporations also label workers who function like regular employees as contractors: If you’re delivering packages for Big Package Company in a BPC shirt, reporting for an hourly schedule, following specific routes, and having other aspects of your day-to-day work life dictated by BPC, you are an employee — as a court determined in 2015 in the case of a very real package company: FedEx. Even if you also moonlight for Rival Package Company doing similar work, you’re still an employee.

“Misclassifying limits people’s ability to negotiate while companies are acting as employers and controlling the way work happens,” explained Erica Smiley of Jobs With Justice.

Workers aren’t the only ones concerned about misclassification. The practice is also anticompetitive, harming companies that comply with the law by treating employees as employees, taking on the added responsibility and cost that comes with it. “This is just another way that companies shift burdens onto workers and taxpayers,” says Steve Smith of the California Labor Federation.

This is just another way that companies shift burdens onto workers and taxpayers.
– Steve Smith

Gig economy jobs often come with lofty promises of profit and are marketed with language used to describe independent contracting, such as the ability to set your own hours and select your customers. Earners aren’t paid by the hour in many cases, but by the job; the more jobs they can rack up, the higher the pay.

On the ground, the reality is very different, whether you’re a cleaner with Handy or a courier with Postmates. Companies dictate the terms of employment quite extensively, and in some cases have even created their version of the company store, as with companies like Uber and Swift, which have gotten into the vehicle sales and leasing business for their “contractors.”

States such as Massachusetts, New Jersey, and now California are trying to solve this with laws that clearly define the distinctions between employees and independent contractors.  California’s AB5, for instance, would codify the Dynamex decision. These laws do not, of course, magically eliminate the practice of misclassification or instantly reclassify workers, but they add further guidance around the topic and create tools for workers and labor organizers to use in negotiations with employers.

In other regions, worker-organizers have focused on issues around working conditions themselves, such as pay and access to benefits, rather than the question of misclassification. That’s happened in New York, Washington State and elsewhere — though it should be noted that many of these focus on the gig economy specifically.

The push to clarify the definition of independent contractors could benefit workers and employers alike, and it may also be very disruptive to the tech industry. While the gig economy makes up a relatively small percentage of misclassified workers, Smith said, “What you do see with the gig economy is businesses building an entire business model around misclassification.”

Even as lawmakers consider codifying protections, the National Employment Law Project finds these companies are a driving force behind a wave of “marketplace platform” legislation across the U.S. that explicitly defines gig economy workers as independent contractors, not employees. One venture capitalist shamelessly told CNN: “What is ultimately a better business decision? To try to change the law in a way that you think works for your platform, or to make sure your platform fits into the existing law?”

Building an industry on normalizing misclassification, and sometimes pushing workers to advocate against their own rights, as seen with smiling gig economy workers shilling for their bosses, is a dangerous and troubling trend. Companies are quick to claim that codifying independent contractor status would be “ruinous,” but they also said the same thing about minimum wages, protecting the right to collective bargaining, and other measures designed to improve worker health and safety, and yet somehow, capitalism prevails. Companies that cannot meet their operating costs fall, and others rise to replace them.

“Some businesses,” commented Smiley, “may not deserve to exist in a modern society.”