Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Plight of the Freelancer

This article describes my life.
Venkatesh also asks people if they work for themselves. Over the years, he has observed the rise in the number of people who say yes. This year, he estimated, at least half of his coffee-shop sample was made up of the self-employed. Increasingly, they talk about their fading prospects. In 2005, 16 percent of the coffee-shop patrons Venkatesh talked to in Brooklyn and 34 percent in Manhattan said they were out of work, were looking or had recently given up looking. In April of this year, the figure rose to 37 percent in Brooklyn and spiked to 53 percent in Manhattan. Many of the coffee-shop patrons told Venkatesh that they had maxed out their credit cards and had no savings. He concluded that it wasn’t just many workers in the sex industry who were living at the edge of poverty — it could be anyone who had hung out their own shingle.
As Chris Jagers points out, a freelancer is not an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs build businesses that eventually function without them; freelancers just do a job. They do a job without a steady paycheck, sick leave, health insurance or unemployment insurance. When a freelancer doesn't work, she doesn't get paid.

The thing that you notice the most when working freelance is the number of systems that are set up to milk you, without any work actually getting done in exchange for the money extracted. Our landlord just jacked up our rent again; additionally, he tacked on a $300 addition to the security deposit. (We signed the new lease and pretended we didn't notice the security deposit increase, because there's no way we can pay it. We figure it will cost him a lot more to evict us than it's worth.) Everywhere you look, there's another fee--taxes, finance charges, ATM fees, bank fees, parking fees, tolls, utilities, maintenance, transportation. The most insidious thing is how amorphous and impersonal it is; it all just...gets....deducted. You're not paying a person for an object or a service that you are theoretically free to decline. You're drained simply by virtue of living in the system.

Of course, the system is what sustains us; I wouldn't want to do without my apartment, electricity, gas, Internet, phone etc. But in order for a system to survive, it has to keep its individual components alive. A system which takes far more than it delivers is ultimately unsustainable.


Chris Rywalt said...

I often think about my parents and my parents' parents and how well they managed versus how well we've managed. There's the idea in the air that we're somehow lazier, less hard-working. Which maybe we are. But then I also think about all the things they never had to pay for: Health insurance. Internet access. TV. Radio. ATM.

I went across the Verrazano Bridge the other day, something I haven't done in ages. The toll for one passenger car: TEN DOLLARS.

The lower and middle classes have become the cash cows for so many industries at this point. We're cannibalizing ourselves.

LXV said...

And don't forget, to add insult to injury, we have to pay twice as much Social Security as "employees" do. A whopping 15%.

However, I did manage to qualify with enough day job hours to join the Freelancer's Union which gives me affordable (just barely) health insurance. If you haven't looked into it, it could be worth a try.

Pretty Lady said...

Lady X, Freelancer's union health insurance is a distant dream; however as artists, we qualify through Fractured Atlas. Our deductible is unmanageable, but the premiums aren't quite as insane as F.U.

Of course, now we've got the paperwork out to apply for Child Health Plus, since income-wise, we definitely qualify. Or rather, LACK of income-wise.

Pretty Lady said...

And yes, Chris, things are set up these days so that it's almost impossible to keep your OVERHEAD low. You spend far too much time making calculations like, "how do I get to work without crossing the Verrazano Bridge, because if I pay that toll every day, I'm barely breaking even?"

And also things like--I don't want to pay for a cell phone, but everybody expects me to have a cell phone, and I miss clients if I don't have one, so I guess I have to have one.

Chris Rywalt said...

And remember the days when you just had a regular old phone bill? Mobile phone bills are insane. We were looking over ours last night and we're being nickel and dimed to death on it. I don't even know how because we hardly use our phones for anything. But slipped in there is a charge for a $10 text message. TEN DOLLARS! What is it? Some dopey service for daily jokes my son sent to without realizing how much it'd cost. Our fault -- except what the hell kind of service provider allows such an obviously evil business to operate on their system? This isn't a matter of pure free enterprise -- like Verizon can say they let anyone do whatever on their phones. Verizon is collecting the bills for this company. Meaning they approve of this service. On what planet is a text message worth ten bucks? Is there any way a text message could be worth that much? It's insane. It's a cheat.