I don't own a home to lose, I don't have a family to feed, my story isn't that sob worthy by any means. I realize this. But what it is, is demoralizing.
I lost my job, and so I started working exceedingly hard to find a new one. I've said yes to every journalistic freelance opportunity (even going so far as to try to write a press release in exchange for a haircut). And unlike many, I've been lucky to end up with assignments that will ultimately help my portfolio and perhaps someday advance my career. But as many will attest, the road of a freelancer isn't smooth, and often not well paid. Freelancing involves A LOT of hustling, and things I've never been that comfortable with like networking, being relentless in keeping yourself in someone's mind, and endless pitching ideas, most of the time with no results.
If you are lucky enough to get an assignment there's still the chance that you'll do all the work and then it will be "not exactly what they were looking for" in which case you have to go through sometimes so much editing and re-writing that it will be like doing a second article. Other times they won't use it. If you're lucky you signed a contract with a kill fee that makes all that work still somewhat worth your time.
The other piece to freelancing is the "free" aspect. As in working for. When you write a piece either for print or the web, you typically either sign a contract (with varying degrees of giving up your rights to the work you are producing for them), send an invoice for the agreed amount, or both. Sometimes there are tax forms involved. It's all very official seeming. What never seems to be official is the when you will paid. Which is why making a living as a freelancer can sometimes be next to impossible unless you have a million different gigs going at once, or a job on the side.
I've personally never been completely stiffed (yet), but I have waited over two months for a check from an assignment, and have dealt with freelancers who have waited six months or more. Gawker did a list twice of Print's Worst Late Payment Offenders (find that here and here). Some freelancers they talked to haven't been paid in 2 YEARS!
This in two words is fucked up. A freelancer can't afford to take a publication to court over a few hundred dollars, and many don't want to burn bridges in such a competitive everyone-knows-everyone industry. The publications know this, or more likely don't care. Freelancers are of course a dime a dozen.
So here's how it's been for me: I'm currently working as a freelancer for various publications in what amounts to well over 40 hours a week, in addition, I'm still looking and applying for full time work, and I'm in the middle of applying to Grad School.
I am currently making $40 a week more than I did when I was collecting unemployment. I have no benefits. When work stops for the holidays I won’t be able to collect either. When I have my wisdom tooth removed in a month, not only will I lose money by not working (the result of no sick time) but since the health insurance that I pay out of pocket for every month doesn't cover the full procedure, I will owe more than I make in two weeks of work. And I'm lucky. I'm working. I'm single, I can afford life’s necessities, I don’t have chronic or serious medical problems, and I am not unskilled. Things are a lot worse for a lot of people in
But that doesn’t mean it’s not horribly horribly flawed. Work should be rewarded with a living wage, and medical issues like an exposed sinus from an extracted wisdom tooth should be considered an essential and covered expense.