Death and 1099s

“Taxes are the dues of democracy.”

I have a magnet on my fridge with that statement. It’s much easier to take when you’re receiving all your money back at the end of each year. Not so much if, like us, you end up owing thousands.

You’d think owing as much as we do means we’re wealthy – or at least rich. As we’re currently broke, that’s obviously not the case. Rather, I’ve been working freelance, which results in none of my taxes being withheld throughout the year. I have to pay them all at once at the end of the year.

Lydia DePillis would put me (and Misty, at times) in the class with “people who’ve lost their attachments to employment-based institutions, and must cobble together various income streams to make a living.”[amazon text=Amazon] That sound fun? It isn’t. Nor is it easy. One can spend days (and much, much longer) hunting down new business with no luck. And after every client is secured, you know there will be a day when the project will be over and you’ll be back out pounding the technological pavement.

This tax issue is only one thing people forget about when they comment on how much they wish they could freelance from home. And if those people are Gen Yers, I fear they may actually get to experience freelancing (no matter their career field). Something I’ve worried about for a while: freelancing is the future of work.

During and after the Great Recession, companies realized some more benefits of progressing technology: by automating nearly every in-house job and hiring a few low-paid fulltime (W2) workers, they can get freelancers (1099ers) to do the majority of the professional work – from creative work to administrative assistance and customer service – on contract, getting the employer off the hook for taxes, health insurance, unemployment insurance and all those other costs of doing business with educated, healthy employees.

Health insurance is another of those issues. Our health care system is built on the assumption that most Americans receive their insurance through their employers. As fewer W2s are in the workforce, more and more new 1099s will go without insurance.  This makes Obamacare’s creation especially timely. Freelancers need a place and way to purchase lower-cost insurance than that available on the individual market. Regardless of politics, a national health care system will likely come a necessity lest wealth and health concentrate at the top.

The biggest problem is the inability to predict when the next paycheck will come. Even after a project is complete, one can wait for 90 days or more to receive payment. I’m not sure what the answer is to that. A start might be a regulated, standardized payday. Others have suggested a basic income provided by the state. The things that seem impossible today may well become inevitable in the near future.

As more people experience what it’s like to be a 1099er and feel no loyalty from those for whom they work, these and other issues will come to the forefront of our nation’s (and politicians’’) attention. A shift to such a new economic model would require, in my mind, a Jubilee. And many other changes. Because a shift in our economic model will be clearly entail a shift in culture.

(And let’s go back to the beginning and change a few letters: “Taxes are the duties of democracy.”)


A couple notes:

  • It’s hard to find decent criticism. So much that passes for it is really just a review and summary rather than critique. Not all critiques should be negative, but there have to be problems with whatever art (broad terms) is being reviewed. Don’t tell me what I’ll learn if I read, see, watch the book, painting or film. Make your essay/critique worth reading on its own. One I liked today on the white takeover of hip-hop and music insiders’ obvious bias can be found here.
  • Finally, I think I’m in love with my Kindle Fire. This may be my last weekend subscribed to the print edition of the Sunday NYTimes (it’s been a long run, since ’04, I think). I haven’t been satisfied with it lately and I rarely get to read the whole thing (and I can read it all online with a digital subscription anyway). (The NYTimes app for Kindle is kinda crap. The Washington Post may be my new Sunday read. Very attractive, timeless interface.)


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