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Let’s forget the government

October 4, 2013

No, really. Stop worrying about it until you can do something about it. After all, it’s not like it worries about you, much less listens to you, unless you count manipulating you to get your vote. I am definitely among the eighty-plus percent that thinks that the government believes we work for it, not the other way around. So what? Until there is an election or an uprising, we are kind of stuck with it.

So let’s talk about how people are getting on with life. Specifically, those people that decided to take working in a new direction. Entrepreneurs tend to thrive in this current environment, not because it offers security and cradle-to-grave coddling, but precisely because it doesn’t.

You can sit around and whine that the job market is lousy, or cuddle up with the nearest government support program, or you can get off your duff and find a way to earn a living. Forty-two million U.S. freelancers are doing just that.

The era of the modern freelancer

I  can write with some personal knowledge of this segment of the working public, because I am a freelance writer and consultant, and I have a lot of company.

In an article profiled on the pbs.org website (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/businessdesk/2013/09/the-unemployment-numbers-as-sh.html), Sara Horowitz, the founder and executive director of The Freelancers Union questions the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics model for estimating the number of people employed. In the article Ms. Horowitz cites a figure of 42 million people or just under one-third of the U.S. workforce as being considered independent freelancers or temporary workers.

In a post found at http://qz.com/65279/40-of-americas-workforce-will-be-freelancers-by-2020/ Jeremy Neuner, the CEO and co-founder of NextSpace, a company that builds “co-working communities”, cites a study conducted by Intuit that estimates by 2020, 40% of the U.S. workforce will be “contingent workers” or freelancers.

Then there is the unattached freelancer. Most freelancers don’t belong to a freelancers union, or work for a outsourcing firm. They put up the modern equivalent of a shingle, a website, (mine is at http://www.cloudlancerwriting.com) and away they go. That’s me and a lot of folks like me.

Who does this?

Administrative assistants, bookkeepers, customer service representatives, translators, receptionists, legal secretaries, programmers, web designers, engineers, graphic artists, editors, writers, in fact just about any field or skill that can be marketed is a candidate for freelancer or remote contractor designation.

Freelancers typically encompass a wide spectrum of skills and personalities. In the Old West of the mid- 19th century, ranch hands that drifted from place to place were functioning as freelancers. They were often highly skilled at their jobs,  but just didn’t like being tied down to a specific area for very long, or were forced to move on due to weather or other outside influences. One thing they didn’t do was sit around with their hand out and whine.

In some ways that attitude is prevalent among many freelancers today. They simply tired of all the corporate constraints placed on them, or of being subjected to a never-ending game of office politics. Other people became freelancers because they were downsized from a company during the recession, or were too old to generate hiring interest in the traditional employment marketplace, or because there simply aren’t enough traditional jobs to go around even though they are recent college graduates. Some retired, and then either lost a significant portion of their assets or income to the recession, or the true cost of living isn’t covered by what they once thought of as a secure retirement income. Some have personal situations that require more flexibility in hours or working conditions than can be obtained in a traditional employment setting. Some sort of drift into it because they are good at something and all of a sudden other folks need their talents.

There are no safety nets

However they arrived in the freelance world, they are pretty much on their own. No one goes out and finds work for them, and they pay the same income tax as everyone else. They pay both the employer’s and employee and employer’s share of social security on their net earnings.

Sometimes the government penalizes them for having initiative. For instance, retired persons that work for a traditional employer are not penalized by losing any of their Social Security benefits for earning below a certain amount of money, which currently ranges from$15,040 to $40,080, depending on their age and when they began receiving benefits. The earnings of retired freelancers do not qualify under that formula, because their income is considered self-employment.

Freelancers don’t get up in the morning to go to a job. They get up and look for clients or buyers, in a chaotic world that is more like the Wild West than a employment office.

Why do they do it?

One word. Pride. No matter whether they are driven by hunger, boredom, or the need to keep their creative juices flowing, they do it because they simply cannot and will not imagine not doing it. If there is a skill they need to learn, they learn it. If there is a job to be done, they don’t waste time worrying about whether it is prestigious. They just do it.

Maybe one day, America will embrace that old-time 19th century mentality again. If it does, you can bet the government will wish we had forgotten it.

© Rebecca L. Baisch 

From → Uncategorized

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