The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

Once you quoted someone who referred to the self-employed as being "on their own" because they don't receive unemployment benefits. If memory serves, you have not yet run an email from one of those people, so I thought I might as well do it.

I am a self-employed commercial artist, who "went freelance" in 2002. For five or six years I was able to round up enough work from various magazine and ad agency clients (many of whom you would recognize) to earn a half-way decent living. I've never been anything more than solidly middle-class, but I was able to pay my bills, occasionally put some money away for a rainy day, and once in a while take my longtime girlfriend out to a nice dinner.

Starting in 2008, I noticed the budgets I was used to were getting reduced. Jobs that used to bring around 2K suddenly were being offered to me for $800.00. Not wanting to piss off regular clients or miss the chance to have my work out there, I took the work. Doing this of course meant I had to take in a lot more work just to stay afloat.

Since then, it has only gotten worse.

Budgets got slashed even more, and some clients have folded up shop entirely. I am now deeply in debt. While I am still able to pick up jobs here and there, there are weeks that go by where I have nothing to do. I keep busy by working a part-time retail job, but they only need me for a few hours a week so it barely makes a difference.

Being a freelance artist has been my life-long dream; it's the only thing I've ever wanted to do since I was a child. I stayed focused and graduated from art school, and stuck with it all through my 20s, even though I never could land any work. But I told myself that if I just kept at, eventually I'd "make it."

Well, it seemed like I did … for a while. But now I lay awake at night, wondering how I'm going to pay my bills and get out the massive debt I've accrued. I've been willing to chuck it all if I could find a full-time graphic designer job, but from the listings I've seen on various job sites, any place hiring also wants their graphic designers to have skill sets completely unrelated to being an artist (like being an IT guy) – presumably to save money by having two positions filled by one person.

There's no government unemployment benefits to help me through this; I am truly on my own.