BaCK in May a mud-flinging spat between the popular media companies Gawker and Vice flared up online. Vice, as Gawker contended, woefully underpays its staff. That probably shouldn’t have come as news to anyone who has an eye on the current media landscape, since everyone underpays everyone, but having contributed recently as a freelancer to both sites, I thought it might be illustrative to chime in with the pay rates I was offered by each, and, for that matter, the 20 other odd publications and sites I’ve written for in the past year or so.
“This is really brave. I am glad someone did this,” was one regular refrain among the hundreds of responses I received after my blog post. “Is this guy crazy?” was another. Talking about money? In the world of freelancing, we all suddenly turn into aristocratic matriarchs. It’s just not done.
“There’s huge social pressure not to talk about money, and employers often exploit that,” one poignant comment on my blog post read, “hoping the underpaid people won’t realize how badly they are underpaid.”
Welcome to the so-called gig economy. Freelance writers are probably the most familiar type of independent workers, yet, whether driven by choice or market forces, more and more people in occupations as varied as academia, accounting, and acupuncture, are striking out on their own. It’s a constant hustle that can offer increased work-life flexibility but, as often, includes employers with take-it-or-leave-it attitudes and little income security. Is it really sustainable to have a wide swath of the modern American workforce making ends meet this way?
Plenty of Americans are trying. The US government doesn’t regularly count the nation’s freelancers — which makes you wonder about unemployment figures — but at last estimate, in 2006, the country had about 42 million independent workers, or about one-third of the workforce.
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