Donald Trump and his supporters repeatedly invoke the “silent majority” as their strategy to win in November. His base however is neither silent, nor a majority.
Ironically, there is a real, silent soon-to-be majority of hard-working Americans, comprised of every creed and color. Whichever candidate can address their concerns could not only win the election, but also establish, like Roosevelt did with New Deal voters, a political base for their party for future generations.
They are called by many names: independent contractors, solopreneurs, contingent workers, and most frequently, freelancers. These flexible gig workers are estimated to make up 40 percent of the American workforce and growing.
How they are treated by current public policy is fundamentally unfair and unnecessarily restricts peoples’ ability to be entrepreneurial, which is exactly what our slow growing economy desperately needs to thrive.
Consider the following example playing itself out in workplaces all over the country:
The first type of worker, or Matt as we’ll call him, has a conventional, 40-hour a week job as a customer service representative for a large telecom company. Matt isn’t proud of his work, and sometimes loathes his job, but he has a health insurance package that covers his entire family, a 401K program, two weeks of paid vacation and sick leave every year.
In the cubicle across from Matt, and doing a nearly identical job, is Mary. She works 20 hours a week as a temp for the same telecom company, another 20 hours keeping the books for a pop-up restaurant, and has a side gig reselling vintage bridal gowns to a global customer base on Etsy—her true passion.
Mary loves the flexibility that comes with multiple gigs. She has time to pick her kids up from school, coach their soccer team, and help them with their homework. The price she pays for working the same number of hours a week and being with her family is that she assumes the entire cost of her subpar health and dental insurance, she has no retirement plan, no paid vacation, and has to get her work done even if she or her kids have the flu, or worse.
She also endures the bane of all freelancers—paying both the employer and employee contributions to Social Security and Medicare. She pays all of her taxes and never receives a refund. On top of that, Mary has no discrimination or wage protections which could mean it takes months to be paid or a fight just to get paid at all.
Both workers are active contributors to the economy. In fact, with multiple diverse income streams and a tenacious personal drive, I argue that Mary is better for the economy, her family and her community. Yet, as a nation, we continue to perpetuate economic and social policies that favor those like Matt in traditional nine 9-to 5 jobs and punish people like Mary. As a nation, we need to start treating all work as work.
Macroeconomic trends like corporate exploitation, automation, and out-sourcing forced many into this new way of working. But most freelancers choose to work in the gig economy to avoid long commutes, spend more time with their families, start new enterprises, or simply to escape the soul-sucking monotony that comes from spending forty plus hours trapped in a cubicle.
Speaking with thousands of freelancers at the nine co-working spaces run by NextSpace—a company we cofounded in 2008. Freelancers hail from a wide array of sectors and represent every level of society—from baby boomers supplementing their retirement savings to millennials seeking a flexible work-life balance.
Despite their diversity, freelancers have two things in common: a desire to create a life on their own terms, and a frustration that tax codes and public policy are still geared towards the industrial economies of a bygone era.
According to a study conducted by the Freelancers Union, there are approximately 54 million freelancers in this country and growing, but they have not yet coalesced into a political movement. It is time for candidates to recognize these workers and clearly articulate public policies that will support them.
Although Donald Trump has yet to even acknowledge the existence of the gig economy, Hillary Clinton has at least addressed the issue albeit not as aggressively as she could. She has spoken to the need for bolstering freelancers’ rights, giving contractors the recourse to get paid, and establishing a system of portable benefits that reflects the current and evolving nature of work.
By addressing the issues of the real silent majority, Clinton can easily defeat Trump, and as President, start making work work for both freelancers and our economy.
This article was written with Jeremy Neuner, my co-author of The Rise of the Naked Economy – How to Benefit from the Changing Workplace (Macmillan).