If you walked into a coffee shop on Tuesday afternoon ten-years ago, you might ask, “Who are all these people who don’t work?” But if you walk in to that same coffee shop today, you’ll likely witness a sea of people hunched over their laptops and typing. Many of them are working, just not at a regular job. Last Thursday, WBEZ organized an event for these untraditional workers called “Making Your Own Job.”
Freelancers and one-person businesses are growing part of the workforce. And it’s just not just the journalist and artist we typically associate with freelancing. Educators, miners, construction workers, and cooks—they all have a growing ratio of contract work to full-time jobs.
“Even though there may not be jobs in the conventional sense, there is still work. That's the whole idea of the 1099 economy. It's just a different way of organizing the economy,” blogs William Fulton at Governing.com.
But this is news about the economy, so of course it can’t be all rosy. These new jobs come with special challenges. Freelancers don’t have unemployment insurance, so if the work dries up, that’s it, they’re on their own. If they get sick? Well, their job isn’t providing health insurance; they have to figure that out by themselves. And then there is the issue of taxes. When your income doesn’t come from one source and you’re paying expenses out of pocket, taxes are incredibly confusing. This time of year many in the 1099 economy are surprised to learn they owe thousands of dollars to the government.
At the event we had CPA’s, banks, and non-profits on hand to help connect people to the resources for these challenges.
But several attendees told me that they weren’t just there to find concrete resources, they were there to find a community. Working alone on your couch, or jumping from gig to gig, it can be hard to make connections. Independent Writers of Chicago noticed that people were shyly approaching their table, "… these visitors… seemed to go away jazzed that the very group they hoped was out there was -- and they were welcome to join us," said IWOC’s Ian Morris.
Many people who view themselves as freelancers, have the potential to do the same jobs as a small business and new business incubators were on hand to help them figure out. Finch’s Beer and Taquero Fusion, two new successful Chicago businesses, were on hand to share their products and insights.
We know many people were turned away at the door for lack of space. We were surprised and overwhelmed at the amount of interest and will keep that in mind when making decisions about RSVP lists and the size of a space. In the meantime, all the organizations who participated can be found on the event listing. We’ve added links to their websites, so you can follow up directly with them about more information.
If there is anything last night showed us, it’s that in the midst of a bad job market, people are sharing their creativity and insight to create a new way of having a job. Please feel free to continue the conversation by using the comment space below to share your ideas and resources.