The Atlantic’s series on the “freelance surge”

On Labour Day, Freelancers Union founder Sara Horowitz wrote an article to announce and set the stage for a series for the Atlantic on the “freelance surge,” what she calls “the industrial revolution of our time.” She writes: “We haven’t seen a shift in the workforce this significant in almost 100 years when we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Now, employees are leaving the traditional workplace and opting to piece together a professional life on their own.” Drawing upon U.S. data, she notes that:

In Canada, between 2008 and 2010, the total number of self-employed workers went up by 46, 700 (1.8 per cent increase). In that same period, the number of self-employed workers in Canada who completed some post-secondary education increased by 81,300 (up 5.1 per cent), but the number of self-employed workers with some high school education or less decreased by 38, 900 (down 1.7 per cent).* Industry Canada’s Small Business Quarterly says this “suggests that Canadians were still able to enter self-employment in spite of the recent recession,” implying, as Horowitz does in her post, that many freelancers are freelancers by choice. “While the economy has unwillingly pushed some people into independent work, many have chosen it because of greater flexibility that lets them skip the dreary office environment and focus on more personally fulfilling projects,” she writes.

The three major trends around which Horowitz will centre her series are:

1) We don’t actually know the true composition of the new workforce. After 2005, the government stopped counting independent workers in a meaningful and accurate way. Studies have shown that the independent workforce has grown and changed significantly since then, but the government hasn’t substantiated those results with a new, official count. Washington can’t fix what it can’t count. Since policies and budget decisions are based on data, freelancers are not being taken into account as a viable, critical component of the U.S. workforce. We’re not acknowledging their prevalence and economic contributions, let alone addressing the myriad challenges they face.

2) Jobs no longer provide the protections and security that workers used to expect. The basics ­ such as health insurance, protection from unpaid wages, a retirement plan, and unemployment insurance ­ are out of reach for one-third of working Americans. Independent workers are forced to seek them elsewhere, and if they can’t find or afford them, then they go without. Our current support system is based on a traditional employment model, where one worker must be tethered to one employer to receive those benefits. Given that fewer and fewer of us are working this way, it’s time to build a new support system that allows for the flexible and mobile way that people are working.

3) This new, changing workforce needs to build economic security in profoundly new ways. For the new workforce, the New Deal is irrelevant. When it was passed in the 1930s, the New Deal provided workers with important protections and benefits ­ but those securities were built for a traditional employer-employee relationship. The New Deal has not evolved to include independent workers: no unemployment during lean times; no protections from age, race, and gender discrimination; no enforcement from the Department of Labor when employers don’t pay; and the list goes on.

Horowitz’s second article in the series argues that a “new New Deal” is needed to acknowledge and protect the growing freelance workforce. Making changes to health insurance and employment insurance policy and making it easier for freelancers to unionize will help protect their interests, and this can all be accomplished through collaboration (meaning: Horowitz is not expecting the government to come to the rescue, or do much at all, without some prodding).

Check Horowitz’s profile page on soon for more articles in this series.

*Data from this Industry Canada page.

Posted on September 13, 2011 at 12:16 pm by editor · · Tagged with: ,

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