How I Screwed Up the Unemployment Numbers

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?"

When employers say they're reluctant to hire, it may just mean they don't want the commitment of a 40-hour employee, along with handling the taxes and benefits that entails. It's not just the paying and the paperwork, but the responsibility for that person's full time that's at issue. Because I'm much more productive working for several employers than I could ever be working for one.

When I cash a check for myself, I then send 50% of the total to state and federal tax officials. I pay my own social security taxes, my Medicare, and I pay the employer's piece, too.

That's before I pay for health insurance, or add money to my retirement account. The full cost of your employment, and accounting for it, should be twice what you're paying yourself especially if, like me, you have ADHD and have to pay someone else to do the accounting.

Despite this, I've had a wonderful work life, and I think my friends and relatives have as well. If just 3% of the labor force lives the way I do --and I think that's underestimating it -- the real unemployment rate may be closer to 4% than the 7.3% being reported.

What about the breadwinners now at McDonald's ( MCD) or Wal-Mart ( WMT) , earning minimum wage? I suspect most are people who worked for decades and just haven't figured out the new economy, who don't know how to market their skills, take short-term work and piece work, and cobble together a new economy life for themselves.

The fact is that "getting a job" is no longer the way the economy works. Getting busy, getting some assignments, and catching some work is the way it works. We're all entrepreneurs, working in businesses with one employee, and that's not a bad thing.

Unless you're reading the unemployment statistics, the economy has mostly recovered.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and a tech reporter since 1982. His specialty has been getting to the future ahead of the crowd, then leaving before success arrived. That meant covering the Internet in 1985, e-commerce in 1994, the Internet of Things in 2005, open source in 2005 and, since 2010, renewable energy. He has written for every medium from newspapers and magazines to Web sites, from books to blogs. He still seeks tomorrow from his Craftsman home in Atlanta.

More from Opinion

Why a Global Stock Market Crash Is Coming

Why a Global Stock Market Crash Is Coming

3 New Investing Myths That Must Be Busted

3 New Investing Myths That Must Be Busted

Sears CEO Eddie Lampert Looks Like He Is Sucking Company Dry

Sears CEO Eddie Lampert Looks Like He Is Sucking Company Dry

Nasdaq Exec: Exchange Is 'All-In' on Using Blockchain Technology

Nasdaq Exec: Exchange Is 'All-In' on Using Blockchain Technology

It's Dumb to Think Legalizing Weed Is Still a Political Issue

It's Dumb to Think Legalizing Weed Is Still a Political Issue