Melissa Z. works 35 hours a week, performing about 600 “work units” per month. When all is said and done, she earns $500 in a “good” month. She thinks it’s great.
Melissa is an Amazon Mechanical Turk “crowdsource worker.” She calls her earnings of an average of about $2 to $3.50 an hour “a godsend.”
(Learn more here: Amazon Mechanical Turk)
“Look at it this way,” she said. “At the end of every month, I have $500 cash in my pocket I would not have otherwise. I could have zero dollars to spend or $500. Which would you rather have?”
Melissa is 51 years old, single, and lives by herself in rural northern Minnesota. She suffers from arthritis complicated by “connective tissue disease.” Her fingers are slightly gnarled and her toes are twisted. Her entire body smolders with a perpetual dull ache. She describes her pain as “a daily burden but tolerable” as long as she takes her medications.
But Melissa’s condition prevents her from getting even those basic kinds of minimum wage jobs, such as working at a convenience store or a fast food joint. The nearby snowmobile or window factory are out of the question. She can’t stand on her feet for more than a half-hour at a time. She doesn't qualify for a “desk job.”
Melissa worked most of her life as a CNA, a certified nurse’s aide in nursing homes. She once worked her way up to $15 an hour. She has a high school degree.
She started to feel an “overall” ache in her body in her late 30s. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Her ability to cover an eight-hour shift on walking the halls and lifting patients slowly eroded until she just couldn't do it anymore.
It all ended up in a small disability stipend and help from social service programs such as SNAP (better known as food stamps). Fortunately for Melissa, she lives rent free in a small home that was owned by her parents. Fuel assistance helps her with heat. But with food, fuel and shelter taken care of, Melissa will tell you that you still need money to live.
“It may not be the greatest, but for me, Amazon Turk is the best solution I can come up with,” she said.
Melissa spends six to eight hours a day working “HITS”. These are a variety of small task that range from filling out academic or consumer surveys, to doing tasks that involve search engine tasks for "requesters.”
Requesters might be a business, an individual, or some entity, such as a university or marketing firm. They require huge numbers of people to complete tens of thousands of tiny tasks.
Mellisa also occasionally performs transcribing for requesters although she limits her time on those kind of HITS because she says she is not a very fast typist.
“For me, the best jobs are taking surveys that pay from 25 cents to a dollar,” she said. "If I can do 20 of those per day, I can earn maybe $10 to $15 a day – sometimes $20 if I’m really lucky. But that’s usually a good 10-hour day in front of the computer.”
One of the jobs she finds especially tedious is using keywords to search for the URL of a website, and then reporting where the URL appears on a specific search engine.
“It’s a tedious job and you get seven cents for each one you do,” Melissa said. “You have to do six of them per 7-cent payment, so it takes a lot of them to reach a couple bucks,” she says with a chuckle. “But is adds up – slowly.”
Melissa is able to transfer her earnings from her Amazon “payments account” to her bank account. Or she can use her earnings to buy things directly from Amazon.
“A lot of people think I’m crazy,” she admits. “One person told me working for crowdsourcing sites like Amazon Mechanical Turk is like working in a sweatshop in Bangladesh,” she says, again with a laugh. “But, you know, whatever! I live in a remote area, I’m handicapped and I don’t qualify for any real jobs. Do you know how many people are eager to hire a 51-year-old semi-crippled woman? No one, that's who.”
Melissa said that despite having living assistance to meet her basic needs, “you still need cash.”
“There’s all kinds of things you need to buy,” she said. “Last week my stove stopped working. It cost over $200 to fix it. That’s just to name one of the expenses of daily normal life. You need all kinds of stuff, like clothes and, you know, just basic stuff most people take for granted, like a pair of gloves. And my Internet bill, of course.”
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