On the Freelance Front Line: Waging War Against Non-Payment

According to an online article written by Ben Matthews entitled Freelance Statistics 2016: The Freelance Economy in Numbers, 53 million people are performing freelance work in the United States and contribute to the overall economy approximately $715 billion in earnings. This equates to 34 percent of the national workforce. What are the current battles being fought on the freelance front line and what is being done about them?

Finding Legitimate Paying Work

The top benefits of freelancing is the ability to have flexible schedules and to earn additional income on the side. However, finding legitimate paying work on a consistent basis is the biggest elephant in the room. Still, over 77 percent of freelancers state that the future of freelancing is more promising than ever. 65 percent of the interviewed freelancers (mostly writers) expressed that the field is more respected than it was just 3 years ago. However, currently 40 percent of freelancers struggle to get paid on time, if they get paid at all.

One major problem for freelancers is that they are classified as independent contractors under the 1935 National Labor Act. This creates difficulty in taking legal action when a client refuses to pay and makes it impossible for this field of workers to unionize for proper workplace treatment. Until political action is taken to address these issues, writers are going to continue to face difficulties regarding client nonpayment.

As of right now, 68 percent of freelancers expressed strong interest in becoming a member of a legalized union. There are 2 organizations out there for freelancers that act in some capacity like a union. However, both organizations have major flaws when it comes to defending the rights of the independent contractor. For example, one of the union organizations does not pay contributors for content distributed on their own corporate blog. It makes it difficult for a writer to believe that the organization is fighting against client nonpayment when the warriors on the frontline of the battlefield don’t even pay writers for their work.

According to a recent study on the current state of freelancing, the average annual income for freelancers is between $10,001-$20,000. Only 19 percent of surveyed respondents made over $50,000 in yearly income, and only 5 percent were able to make 6 figures. Full-time freelancers typically average between $20,001-$30,000 on a yearly basis. Fiction authors struggle even more when it comes to earning a decent living. Those seeming to have better income luck currently appear to specialize in B2B content marketing and technical writing. The more complicated the work, the higher the pay seems to be.

Let’s compare these numbers to the average salaried worker in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual mean wage is $47,230. The average mean wage for writers and editors recently was $66,990. Lumping both editors and writers together is questionable statistically, as editors generally are paid more for their work than writers.

Horrible Wages

Let’s delve a bit deeper. According to the most recent Gallup poll, the average American employee works about 47 hours on a weekly basis. In contrast, the majority of full-time freelancers are working between 31-40 hours on 2 or fewer projects per week. Writers typically made more money recently through flat rates rather than per-word rates. Digital work garnished for less money for writers. The average for print stories was around $350 per piece. Digital work can generate approximately $207 per assignment, while working for content mills averages around $25 per piece.

An alarming stat in the study of the state of freelancing uncovered that 68 percent of freelancers would gladly give up self-employment for a full-time job with great benefits. In regards to daily obstacles, 34 percent identified obtaining enough work as their biggest hurdle. 26 percent stated time management was their largest concern.

Finding Solutions

Writers still need to learn how to become their own advocates for their businesses and not rely on the powers-that-be to resolve their issues. We creatives can be more proactive through protecting our work through contracts, better negotiation strategies, and utilizing copyright protection to our advantages. It is up to us to keep abreast of the changes that directly impact our businesses and adjust accordingly. There is no third-party savior.

The future looks brighter overall. As the economic markets change, it will make more and more financial sense for the employment of freelancers to accomplish the daily content needs of businesses worldwide. We have the ability to win this war long-term. But ultimately up to us how willing we are to keep continuing the fight until we achieve victory.

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