The start of my freelance career came with a deadline—but not the kind familiar to most writers. I had gotten a computer from Rent-a-Center using a “first week is free” coupon. I didn’t have any money to extend the rental once my seven free days ended.
Meaning, I had to bang out as many words as my fingers could manage in that 168-hour window before the rental crew would be back to reclaim my temporary writing machine.
If I would have had some kind of income support safety net like guaranteed income or universal basic income, perhaps I wouldn’t have felt such an urgent panic and a sense of the clock ticking as every precious moment slipped away.
We’re a working-class family, and at the time could barely afford necessities like heat and groceries, let alone office equipment. I had recently lost my job of four years at a daily newspaper. I tried to take the “one door opens when another closes” approach and look at it as a good opportunity to try my hand at freelance writing. The only problem: I had none of the essential basic equipment required to do that kind of work.
That’s when I spotted the “one-week free trial” coupon and decided to see if I could find a way to make it work. I began doing the initial prep work of trying to put together some freelance pitches. With no money to buy magazines, I spent hours at the library studying every issue and writing down information from the mastheads. I came up with what I hoped were some solid story ideas, and created a hand-drawn chart mapping out a plan detailing which magazines I would query, and what stories seemed like the best fit for each of them. Once I had everything ready, I redeemed my free-week rental coupon and the clock started ticking.
Meanwhile, I was facing other kinds of deadlines familiar to many working-class parents: due dates for my various utilities were looming, and the mortgage would be due very soon. Since my monthly income barely covered those critical basic needs, I crossed my fingers and hoped there would be no unexpected expenses that month.
My seven-day writing frenzy paid off. I ended up selling a story to a now-defunct women’s magazine. My very first freelance paycheck was for $600. To me, it felt like $6 million. The check arrived in the mail long after the rental computer had been returned. My husband Jack recalls me running upstairs, waking him up on the day the check arrived to share my exciting news not long after he’d gone to sleep after arriving home from the nightshift at the bread bag factory where he worked.
These days, those free rental coupons probably no longer exist – and even if they did, it would be tough for anyone to try and launch a freelance career in one week, without continued access to a computer and other basic equipment.
Programs like guaranteed income or universal basic income could provide people with enough to cover their essential bills and living expenses, which might give them just enough financial breathing room to think about starting their own business or launching a freelance career. We saw examples of this last year, with the expanded child tax credit that allowed some parents to start their own business. Guaranteed income is especially important for those who have historically been deprived of opportunities, such as women of color. This income support would help them build the capital needed to become entrepreneurs.
We must support candidates who will work towards ensuring all Americans have the income support that will help them survive and take care of their families.
Animations by Catherine Killough.