Youth of today! Embrace the free-wheeling freelance life and you, too, could be a star — or at least be happier than the average corporate grind. At least that’s what the New York Times’ latest trend story suggests to newly minted college grads.
Though the unlucky might be forced to subsist on beans in a windowless basement apartment, the decline of traditional, full-time employment also liberated at least one twentysomething Harvard alum to take the leap and join Titus Andronicus, which has become a critically acclaimed indie band. Feel the excitement!
Contrary to popular assumptions, the overall number of self-employed workers has actually fallen since pre-recession times.
Through the tech boom of the 1990s and early Aughts, the number of self-employed workers grew at a rapid clip. By August 2007, there were 9.7 million self-employed workers outside of the agriculture sector, working as independent contractors, consultants, freelancers and the like (as opposed to owning their own incorporated businesses). Four years later, this self-employed class has dropped by nearly a million workers, falling to 8,695,000 in August 2011. This is largely because the number of self-employed people working full time has fallen significantly, sinking by 17 percent over the past four years, according data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We have, however, seen an increase in self-employed Americans working part time. They are largely doing so for “economic reasons” — that is, “because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job,” according to BLS. During the recession, that group of self-employed workers has risen 268 percent, going from 273,000 in August 2007 to 732,000 workers last month. Overall, they’re part of the growing group of 8.6 million Americans who now are involuntarily part-time workers. That’s not a happy story, either.
The country’s freelance nation has always been a diverse lot, some of whom were pushed out of full-time jobs and others who actively pursued this pathway with entrepreneurial zeal. But the recession has forced a growing number of people to grudgingly pursue this path. Do some of them end up “loving it”? Of course. Will some devote their extra free time to creative pursuits, perhaps to become indie rock darlings? Sure. But those who want to pursue the freelance life to support themselves full time are having a far harder time doing so.
Photo caption: Darkest Hour guitarist Mike Carrigan, photographed last month at the 9:30 club.