Terrible Freedom

How many W2s and 1099s did you get this year? It might be a measure of how contemporary you are.

A friend told me he got seven W2s, and four 1099s, this tax season. I thought he must be mistaken. But when he reeled them off—one company, then another, then his own business; artistic work; PayPal revenue, etc.—it made me think about my own. I also changed primary jobs last year, had freelance work, and got statements from a press, as an editor, and for my book royalties there and elsewhere.

Welcome to personal freedom. That is what we will call it, I guess, in a time when the project of having a single job that provides all that is needed continues to be dismantled.

Young people do not even lament, anymore, the days when grandma or grandpa worked for one company all their lives; they are lost in time. Who can afford to stay with one company, when raises are, say, 2-3% per year, and even the Social Security Administration gave 2.8% recently for cost of living adjustment? If someone worked 30 years at a job that barely kept pace with inflation, they would sink badly over time. The same income, year after year, would not allow them to raise kids, pay for bigger housing for a family, save for retirement, deal with medical bills…

Twenty-five to 30 percent of American workers “had engaged in independent work on a supplementary or primary basis in the preceding month,” and 10 percent “rely on alternative arrangements for their main job, including temp agency work, on-call work, contracted work, and freelancing,” report the Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative and Cornell University’s ILR School. “Ideas like ‘job’ and “employer” don’t always make sense” now, they say.

Somebody took away security under the guise of offering flexibility, choices, and freedom. Really it is a coat stitched together from scraps.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.