Freelance Economy Can Be Powerful Economic Engine

Published in Pawtucket Times on June 22, 2015

Last week, it took three days for Sign Painter Jayson M. Salvi to put the final touches on the façade of the Camera Werks on Hope St.   As he sat on the pavement printing the signage, passerbuyers would stop and chat, admiring his craft.

For the 41-year-old Salvi, his passion for sign painting began in high school, ultimately continuing in his eight year stint in the U.S. Navy.  Salvi says that he usually ended up painting logos and signs on doors wherever he was assigned.

With an honorable discharge from the Navy in 2000 and a degree in business administration he earned at Norfolk University while serving in the military, Salvi came to Providence to be near family.  He began his sign painting business at the former Providence-based Tazza Restaurant after an unsuccessful venture in the candle making business, followed by several retail jobs.  Word of mouth advertising about his artistic talent led to more freelance painting opportunities at the Trinity Brew House, RISD’s Second Life, a nonprofit student run recycling material center, and the Camera Werks, to name a few.

Working a full-time retail job pays for his health insurance, for him and his wife, Kate, a self employed photographer and card designer.     Salvi estimates that he pulls in around $30,000 a year from his freelancing.  “Try buying a Cadillac with that,” he says.  But in a blink of an eye he would leave retail forever to make a living from full-time sign painting, he says. “Self employed people do whatever they need to do to pay the bills to do the things they love to do,” he says.

Spotlight on Rhode Island Freelances

According to federal census data released last month, Salvi and his wife join over 73,700 sole proprietors in Rhode Island who earned a total of over $3.3 billion in annual income. These Ocean State residents are self-employed, sole proprietors, freelancers, independent contractors and non-employee small businesses, says Olon Reeder, of Olon Reeder Associates, a public relations consulting firm that represents self employed clients.  .

The federal census data, culled from 2013 sole proprietor income tax filings from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, indicate that the top work performed by Rhode Island’s self employed workers included Professional/Technical/Scientific services; Other Non-Governmental services; Real Estate; Construction; and Health and Social services, says Reeder.

Reeder, 56, states that despite an improving jobs market in Southern New England [the latest state unemployment numbers drop to 5.9 percent, the lowest since 2007], it’s still very difficult for many unemployed Rhode Islanders to get back to full-time work.  But, the Ocean State has been able to maintain stable job growth, in particular, the state’s freelance workforce, says the North Providence resident and businessman.

Reeder, who has been a public relations consultant for almost 28 years, notes that many sole proprietors active in Rhode Island are “baby boomers” aged 50 and over that are turning to freelance work full time because they were laid off from regular work or early retirees; are encoring into lifelong ambitions they feel are essential in the marketplace; or are working for themselves out of necessity due to long term unemployment.

Nationally, the latest Census Data figures report that for 2013 there were 23 million Americans working solo earning $1 trillion in receipts, that’s up from 2011 figures, which showed at that time there were only 22.5 million people who worked for themselves and collectively earned at that time $989.6 billion, says Reeder..

”The latest figures, from 2013, also show that Rhode Island’s sole proprietors had receipts of $3.3 billion.,” Reeder adds, noting that when compared to similar numbers from 2011, self employment increased by 700 jobs over the last three years (over 200 annually) and income went up by $2 million over the last three years (over $300 thousand annually).

Interestingly, next door in Massachusetts, self employment went dramatically down in the “Bay State,” as Federal figures indicated that only 263,500 freelance workers in 2013, compared to the 471,800 solo workers employed in 2011. Earnings for Massachusetts independents also fell in 2013, with only $15.2 million in receipts, compared to $24.4 million in 2011, he said.

“Finally, Rhode Island has something we do best when it comes to our self-employed workers,” he says, noting that the state now rates better than its next door neighbor. “It’s something we can boast about,” he says.

Self-Employed, an Economic Engine

State and local politicians tend to focus their energy on attracting large companies to the state [like 38 Studios], but tend to ignore the self-employed, charges Reeder, a long time tireless and passionate advocate for self-employed workers.  “The self employed are a powerhouse that can no longer be ignored and must be reckoned with,” he says.

“Rhode Island’s self employed are a best kept secret that need to be taken advantaged of to improve our state’s long tern economic development and quality of life,”  says Reeder.  “Very few businesses create over 200 jobs a year and pay per capita per sole proprietor an average of over $44,000 a year. This is how the freelance economy is changing our lives,” he says.

With the ending of this years’ legislative session, Reeder calls on lawmakers to look down the road to investing in state’s self-employed work force.  Usually the General Assembly tackles the tax code to make it more business-friendly for large corporations or targeted industries without considering providing incentives or tax incentives to the state’s self employed.

Like previous years, Reeder opposes any revisiting of placing fees or expansion of sales taxes on services provided by the self-employed.   “There must be a level playing field for all business,” he says, ‘everyone should be treated equally.”.

Reeder believes Rhode Island has become a leader in growing its free lance work force and this could just become a powerful economic engine to revitalize the state’s  sputtering economy.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

 

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