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How I Screwed Up the Unemployment Numbers

Stocks in this article: MCD WMT

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers Union says the unemployment numbers are wrong . When I look in the mirror I agree.

According to the government I've only worked about six years in my whole life. Those were the years where I had a real job, with benefits, and for two of those years I still worked from my home-office.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' numbers simply don't capture freelancing, and this is causing policymakers to miss what's really happening in the economy. Because when I talk to people engaged in business, their chief complaint is not that there are too many workers out there, but that too few have the right skills.

As I noted at the top, this has actually been going on for decades. One of my wife's co-workers has been, technically, a "contractor" for most of her career. He doesn't work for the company, he works for himself. He gets an hourly rate, high enough to afford his own insurance and retirement account. He's doing just as well as my wife, but technically he's a freelance.

As I am.

Most freelancers, like me, don't take an hourly rate at all. We're paid by the piece. When this piece is published, I'll earn a fee which, I'm led to believe, brings profit to the publisher. I will handle my own taxes, my own "benefits." When I don't work -- as on my recent vacation -- I make no money. But if I'm managing things well, that's OK.

What I tell other writers who complain about what they're being paid, "Be wary of any business where the first word is submission." That's not just true for journalism any more.

This is how millions of us work. I have a brother-in-law who fixes medical equipment. I have another relative who contracts to fix houses and perform handy work. Horowitz calls this "fractional work and micro gigs," jobs defined by output, or using just a fraction of our time. We're all like Bert in "Mary Poppins." We do what suits us, day by day.

Horowitz explained this at the PBS Newshour's "Business Desk" blog recently. "Instead of focusing on whether someone's job is full-time or part-time, how about asking if they have enough work to sustain a life?"

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