Independent work can be freeing and flexible, offers creative autonomy, and lets workers build a career around their unique skills and passions. But spend just a few minutes on GoFundMe, and you’ll find too many posts of freelancers asking for help with emergency expenses.
When crowdfunding sites and charity are the safety net for more than one third of the U.S. workforce, something is very, very wrong in our society.
Many freelancers have work that is consistent and reliable, but too many have work that is very sporadic. This rhythm of episodic work — and the fact that freelancers are self-employed, makes them ineligible for existing financial products and government programs that would help serve as a safety net. Taken together, this places a tremendous short-term risk on every freelancer’s shoulders.
As a growing percentage of the U.S. workforce becomes freelancers, it’s both economically critical and a moral imperative that we build a real safety net to protect American workers.
The civic infrastructure of the New Deal was built around large manufacturing employers, with a clear role for government and business. And so we’ve grown accustomed to thinking that government will define our next safety net. But while it’s true that government has an important role to play, we see political inaction in Washington and at the state level — from both Republicans and Democrats. It’s obvious that taking a “wait and see” approach isn’t a smart or viable option.
That’s why this summer, I’m launching Trupo, where the shared economic power of freelancers can be harnessed to protect independent workers from their biggest short-term risks. Even if a person is in good health, has consistent work, and a solid balance in savings, an accident — one that lands her in the hospital and off her feet for weeks, unable to see clients, for example — will have a lasting impact on her finances. Every day spent recuperating is a day not working. Every dollar that went to an emergency fund is a dollar not deposited in a retirement account. Without unemployment or disability insurance, any costs that come up beyond what she’s saved makes it harder to afford necessities like rent and food.
But now, with Trupo, she’ll have a cash infusion at this critical moment when she can’t work. Founded by the same team that ran Freelancers Insurance Company a decade ago, Trupo is an insurtech startup building new infrastructure for the mobile workforce. Creating a system large enough to meet the needs of freelancers takes more than just local support. We partnered with venture capital firms to find a way to make it scale. And we’re owned partially by Freelancers Union, which means that money will always be dedicated to advocating for freelancers, and that as Trupo grows, the union does too.
Trupo launches in Atlanta later this summer. Sign up for updates here.
When I founded the Freelancers Union 20 years ago, I wanted to do two things: to advocate for a new safety net and to build a revenue model that would make the organization sustainable. That’s how the union was able to push for Freelance Isn’t Free, a New York City law that requires companies to have a contract when hiring a freelancer, pay them within 30 days, and requires delinquent clients to pay double damages and cover attorneys’ fees. Freelancers Union has also built a state of the art peer-to-peer training program called Spark, which now operates in 30 states.
I’ve spent decades working with people dedicated to supporting freelancers. Those of us who are focused on building a new safety net represent many different points of views, have divergent approaches, and focus on a variety of aspects of the workforce. Yet lately, everyone I speak to is in agreement that we need a safety net and now is the time to do something about it. If that sounds appealing, you can join me and build this network for the future.
Let’s build a new safety net — Get in touch if you’d like to join a network of builders: