Freelancer Angst In An Improving Job Market
Is there an inverse relationship between improved employment numbers from the government, and declining freelance and part-time work opportunities? And is the overall economic effect of this inversion necessarily a good thing?
The U.S. economy is an incredibly complex organism. You pull on what you think is just one thread and a dozen others get unwound. Thus, while economists, policy-makers, and most of the public cheer news that claims for unemployment insurance have declined, that a lot more full-time jobs are being created each month, that the unemployment rate is declining, there’s a natural tendency not to focus on a possible downside.
What’s the downside? A lot of these good numbers might just reflect shifting employment patterns. Might reflect more companies hiring more full-timers, but in in the process, taking work away work from those who don’t work full-time.
This thought came to mind when I got a phone call from an old friend. The bedrock of my friend’s personal finances is a monthly Social Security check. As anyone collecting from this source knows, however, you really can’t live decently on it, or maybe not survive at all, unless there’s another earner in the household, you have a big nest egg put aside, or you have some guilt-ridden grown children who send along regular supplements.
This woman, my friend, doesn’t have any of these backups. What she did have was a fairly regular freelance gig with a business magazine that ended suddenly with an email from its editor — a message also sent to the magazine’s other half-dozen frequent freelance contributors. This communication announced that a new full-timer had been hired, who along with extra writing work by the editor, would take over these freelancers’ collective workload.
‘Freelancers’ is a word usually associated with writing. So a loss of freelance work here might not seem like that big a deal in the larger economic picture. Another word for ‘freelancer,’ however, is ‘consultant.’ And I suspect a great many of these people are getting communications these days like the one received by my friend.
Still another word with similar meanings to ‘freelancers’ is ‘part-timers.’ Many of these people, too, may be losing work (and income) they have long depended on as more full-timers are hired.
If freelancers, consultants and part-timers are fading gradually from the workforce because they are being converted into full-timers on a one-to-one-basis, such a transformation might be viewed as totally good. One full-timer, however, might take away a chunk of work from several freelancer-consultant-part-timers.
Beyond such straight forward numbers is the reality that a heck of a lot of folks either can’t or don’t want to make the switch. There are family reasons why many people don’t want full-time work. Care-giving reasons. School attendance and study reasons. Competing entrepreneurial priority reasons (the time needed to set up one’s own business). There’s just plain personal preference reasons why many people might not want to go to one full-time job every day.
I don’t want to come across as insensitive. I know a lot of people who have desperately wanted full-time work for the security and benefits that often come in its train are finally getting a shot at it, and happily giving up the less secure, often benefit-less life of the freelancer, consultant, or part-timer.
But there are also a lot of people like my freelancer friend, who is now wondering where she can find the supplementary income that freelance work provided her, income that helped her survive since she left the workforce and started collecting Social Security.
So here’s another one of those inconvenient truths: In an economy such as ours, some people’s big gains come at the expense of other people’s pains. And this truth doesn’t only apply to the growing income gap between the very rich and the struggling middle class. It also has serious implications for different sectors of our national workforce.
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