Nowadays, freelance work isn't just for adventurous hustlers. All too often, it's the only work we can get.
A couple decades ago, freelancers and 9-to-5 workers lived in different universes. Freelancers were creative, entrepreneurial types. Salaried workers were sensible family people. Those with steady jobs had health insurance, a 401(k), and a paycheck that was the same every two weeks. Freelancers were constantly chasing the next check, but they had a flexible schedule and the intangible luxury of being their own bosses.
Nowadays, "freelance work," defined by the IRS as any kind of contract or temporary employment, isn't just for adventurous hustlers. All too often, it's the only work we can get. As bleak as our generation's unemployment numbers are, they don't reflect those of us who are living hand-to-mouth on "gigs"—a three-month production assistant job here, a one-time writing assignment there—while we look for the elusive full-time position. Meanwhile, industries known for churning out 40-hour-a-week jobs are collapsing, forcing us to piece together several moneymaking ventures to survive. We may not be answering to one boss every day, but it's not necessarily by choice.
Not that our generation is doomed; we just have to adapt. Millennials will need to figure out new ways of working in this freelance-heavy economy—revamp union culture, for instance, or demand short-term health and unemployment insurance. Right now, we're facing an uncertain future. But the sooner we accept the reality that the 9-to-5 era is behind us, the sooner we'll figure out how to draw from the best of both worlds.