Category Archives: work

Life on $7.40/hour

Claudette Wilson is 23 and works two jobs in the fast food industry, one at Burger King and one at a pizza place. She is on her feet for over 12 hours a day and makes $7.40 an hour

1. What is your typical day like?

Everyday for me is different. I can tell you how a typical Saturday is like: first I wake up around 8am to go to work at Burger King from 10am to 6pm. After I get off of work from Burger King, I go to my second job at Jet’s Pizza from 6pm to midnight. After I get done with working, sometimes I hang with friends, sometimes I just go to sleep.

2. There’s been a lot of talk lately about people wanting work/life balance. Does your job provide that?

My work/life balance is pretty rough at times. There’s not even much time for me, let alone anyone else. In a weird way though, having both jobs does provide balance to me and a change of scene, but I’m not sure about others.

3. What’s the craziest/most unexpected thing that’s ever happened to you while on the job?

The most unexpected thing that happened to me when I was at work is when I witnessed a robbery at the Burger King I work at. The guy tried to get away in a cab. One of the cashiers and my manager at the time ran outside after the cab and chased it down to get the cab driver’s attention. The driver stopped and got out of the car while the cashier and the robber tussled in the backseat for awhile. In the end, the robber got out of the car and ran across the street and got away.

4. What makes for a really good day on the job?

A good day on the job to me is when I arrive on time, and everyone is in their position and ready to work. There aren’t many bad attitudes and the customers aren’t being rude. The best kind of day is when everyone is doing their job and the day goes by swiftly.

5. What’s your annual salary? Do you get benefits?

I get paid $7.40 an hour. My annual salary varies depending upon how many hours I work, but I have not made over $15,000 ever annually. I do not receive benefits. I have worked as a cook, cashier and in just about every position short of management off and on for the last three years. I still live at home with my mother and try to go to school on the side. I do dream of something more, but it’s really hard to get jobs right now.

More kids then ever return to live at home in the United States

What is to blame?

In the last 50 years, this country has done a great job— by maintaining Social Security benefits, expanding Medicare, underwriting home-ownership, securing pensions, and the like— of improving the economic circumstances of the generation that rode the postwar boom years to wealth and comfortable senior citizenship. This country has done an increasingly poor job— by letting the minimum wage stagnate, dis-investing in schools, public colleges, and infrastructure, undercutting workers’ leverage, and the like— of supporting the economic aspirations of that generation’s children and grandchildren.

Want to be a freelance journalist?

Here is what it pays

I went freelance full time in December 2011 and made $17,000 in the first seven months, an average of almost $2500 a month. Making that little was, more or less, the plan. I had savings and I knew I needed to “get my name out there.” I wrote for free. I wrote for very little. I wrote pieces I didn’t want to write. I said no to almost nothing.

Slowly, it started to pay off. A story I wrote for The Awl prompted an editor at The Verge to contact me. I’ve written a number of features for them that paid between $750 and $1,500. After flying on Emirates Airlines and enjoying the in-flight magazine, I pitched the editor. He liked them and I continue to write features that pay a little less than a $1/word. I wrote slideshows for Complex.com for $10/slide (about sports, not hot women). I wrote a feature ($1,000) and blog posts ($250) for ESPN.com’s Grantland, and a photo-driven bit for ESPN The Magazine ($800).

I did pieces for BuzzFeed ($300), Penthouse ($750-$1,500), The Wall Street Journal’s sports section ($1/word), SBNation’s Longform unit ($1,750), Splitsider ($100), Guyism.com ($300/story), Street Fight ($0 but a slice of equity), The New Republic’s website ($150), and other outlets. Some paid more than they needed to, some paid less than they should. Deadspin gave me $100 for two pieces I wrote in Kiev, Ukraine. That seemed low, especially when they offered Jay Mariotti $1,000. (I’m 1/20th as valuable as he? Perhaps not untrue, but still, ouch.) At various points, I had contracts with mediabistro.com ($900/month), NBC ($350/month), Outside ($433/month), and Pacific Standard ($600/month).

I pitched and wrote constantly. I submitted invoices to between six and 12 outlets a month. But while I found consistent work, there were no massive payoffs. The most I made for a single piece was $2,200, although I did help launch and continue to edit American Soccer Now, a soccer website. I was paid a one-time fee of $10,000 and given a bit of equity. In my accounting, I spread that money over the six months starting in June, 2012 and now spend two hours a day working on the site, essentially for free.

I did less glamorous work, like ghostwriting a self-help guide ($40/hour) and some light editing and web production for a major media company ($50/hour). These weren’t my favorite assignments, but they paid well and freed me up to take a flyer on other pieces with low rates but potentially a bigger impact. Plus, while we’d all like to think there’s some magical fairytale land where freelancers write what they want when they want, that simply isn’t true. I have talked to many, many freelance writers while trying to figure out how to make it as one over the past eight years, and the vast majority take the occasional (or frequent) lucrative gig when it arrives.

I’m lucky. I’m making it work. I learned plenty about the economics of business, the good and the bad, especially that I am a poor negotiator. Still, I made a little more than $50,000 in the last six months of 2012 and around $45,000 during the first half of this year. It’s possible to succeed in this gig economy. It’s also exhausting. I’ve grown more ambitious and pitched bigger stories to larger outlets, but nothing has hit yet. Still, I keep trying.