For decades, independent contracting has allowed individuals the freedom and flexibility to build careers on their own terms, an opportunity that has been especially advantageous for women.
As a working mother, I have personally benefited from independent work, which allowed me to raise my children while building my career.
In 2019, California enacted AB 5, becoming the first state to dramatically alter the legal definition of what constitutes an “independent contractor.” Now some in Congress are trying to take this disastrous policy national with the PRO Act, which would restrict the ability of millions of Americans to work the way they choose.
AB 5 reclassified many independent contractors as traditional employees, forcing them to forgo the benefits of setting their own hours and working for a variety of clients. Many have been forced to take traditional office positions or lose their jobs and the income on which they depend. The PRO Act would have the same devastating effect nationwide.
Supporters of restrictions on independent contracting point to the supposed advantages of full-time employment. But what they’re really pushing is fewer choices for workers. Already, women (and men) in more than 135 occupations in California have lost opportunity and income. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Freelance work has been a path to financial independence for generations of Americans. It has empowered people from all walks of life to provide for themselves and their families, myself included.
In 2004, my husband and I were elated to welcome our first child into the world. Having spent much of my life on the East Coast, it was a bit of a shock when my husband’s job relocated us to the Midwest two months after the arrival of our little one.
With my husband as the sole provider, I was fortunate enough to stop working when our baby was born. But after a while, I was ready to reenter into the workforce.
As many new mothers can relate, even though I longed to get back to work, I wasn’t ready to leave my baby. Plus, moving to a new city meant my husband and I didn’t have our families or a support system nearby to help with child care.
As we continued to grow our family, contracting allowed me to stay home with my children without sacrificing my career. Now that my kids are older, I have gone back to an office job on my own terms and without any gaps in my resume.
My story is hardly unique. According to research by the Internal Revenue Service, women are increasingly seeking work as independent contractors. In fact, women are driving much of the overall expansion of this sector, constituting 55 percent of growth.
Many women also prefer to be their own boss instead of working for someone else. The 2019 State of Women-Owned Business Report found that women are responsible for starting an average of 1,817 new businesses per day.
According to the Independent Women’s Forum, 94 percent of female contractors said they participate in the gig economy for flexibility. These numbers suggest that women prefer this freedom even if it means sacrificing employer-provided benefits and paid time off.
However, lawmakers could enact laws to allow businesses and clients to voluntarily offer such benefits to ICs. In fact, the government actually created these stark lines between employment and IC work.
Restricting independent contracting would be devastating for women, especially as the country struggles to rebound from the economic implications of COVID-19.
With the pandemic-related shutdowns causing layoffs and pay cuts, contracting jobs have enabled millions of women and men to earn a living amid the economic fallout. This is especially key for the more than 800,000 women who have dropped out of the workforce since the pandemic began.
Now more than ever, people need flexible work to accommodate challenges in their own lives — whether it’s providing child care, dealing with volatile school schedules, or caring for elderly parents.
Freelance work can help people get back on their feet during the pandemic and strengthen our economy long after the current crisis is over.
Contracting also offers more choices and the ability for anyone to find meaningful work and provide for their families.
Congress should be working to make it easier, or at least not make it harder, for someone to earn a living through independent work. The PRO Act would make it much harder.
Empowering every person to be able to earn a living through independent contracting is a vital step in getting more people in the workforce and building a more resilient post-pandemic economy. Government should not make that more difficult.