Many estimates project that 50% of the working population in the US could be freelance by as early as 2020. Yet Washington, ever lagging behind the real world, has produced few allies for the considerably vulnerable contractor. Regardless of your personal politics, it’s difficult to deny that at the helm of the forces working against America’s freelancers is a familiar figure: Donald Trump.
This might be somewhat surprising, given that even as tax professionals sort through the wreckage of the GOP tax bill it appears to be a boon for the 1099 crowd. The bill reduces taxes on ‘pass-through income’ by a significant margin, something that many freelancers benefit from through establishing individual S-Corps. This view diminishes the position of lower income freelancers (eg. lift and uber drivers), however, because while they still might see a net gain from the new bill their potential tax break would be much smaller because they’re starting from a lower tax bracket and much of the savings they might be able to scrape would be eaten up by considerable corporation licensing, setup, and additional tax prep costs.
But even if the tax bill doesn’t help freelancers as much as we might have hoped, what makes Donald Trump an adversary to freelancer interests is completely separate.
Personal Dealings with Freelancers
During the 2016 presidential election, we learned a lot about the candidate’s backgrounds. To freelancers, one of the most glaring red flags was likely the revelation that Trump deliberately and repeatedly did not pay contractors, with hundreds coming forward with these allegations. He did not deny that he refused to pay these freelancers and small businesses, instead he suggested that he was unsatisfied with the work that was done. Even if this were true (hint: it’s not), this is not a remotely acceptable reason to refuse to pay contractors. Even if you’re unsatisfied with the job a freelancer has done, assuming they completed the scope of work that you assigned to them and they have not misrepresented their experience or abilities, they are entitled to full payment. An employer can fire a contractor who does not meet expectations, they can never hire them again, or they can ask for an additional round of changes or a correction of mistakes, but they can not stiff them. It is an employer’s responsibility to hire a freelancer who can deliver a service that they will be satisfied with- not hire anyone, assuming they can refuse to pay if the contractor doesn’t meet their, often arbitrary or unrealistic, expectations.
This behavior is outside of any political party or position. It’s immoral, illegal, and abhorrent. This alone should categorically preclude freelancers’ support of Donald Trump as a political candidate.
Focus on Deregulation
Freelancers may, on the whole, make slightly more money than their full time counterparts, but they remain much more vulnerable. Freelancers can be forced or coerced into deeply undesirable situations because they simply have no job security. If you need convincing on how the current laws make it easy to take advantage of freelancers, you need only look at how difficult it was for contractors to find recourse when Donald Trump personally stiffed them on the bill.
Trump has, by and large, followed up on a campaign promise to reduce regulation, signing a broad de-regulating executive order on his very first day. This type of policy is often seen as ‘business friendly’ because it can reduce the number of hoops businesses need to jump through in order to be compliant with government restrictions. But these policies can also leave vulnerabilities- for consumers, for employees, and, of course, for contractors. Freelancers need policies that make them less vulnerable, not more.
Despite the rapidly growing number of freelancers, the US is set up for full time employees. The most obvious manifestation of this is healthcare, which a majority of working Americans get from their employer. The GOP has been pushing hard to repeal and replace the affordable care act but has thus far failed to deliver a suitable alternative. It is undeniable that the affordable care act is far from perfect, but those who contracted before the ACA was instated will recall that there has never been a great healthcare system in the US for those without a full time job and the ACA provides a number of significant improvements for the self-employed over the previous system of private insurance, especially for those with pre-existing conditions..
This particular issue might be attributed to the GOP in general rather than Donald Trump specifically, but Trump showed his disregard for the fallout of bad healthcare policy was exceptionally tone deaf when he suggested that the ACA be repealed and replaced at a later date.
All of this doesn’t mean that freelancers should entirely write Trump off, though. It means that they need to demand what they need from all politicians, including Donald Trump – a working healthcare system for non-employees, protections under the law, and full restitution of unpaid contractors with an apology and penalty for late payment.