Sean Williams used to work at Ford. But when the company offered the 46-year-old Chicagoan a buyout, he seized the opportunity to go back to school and pursue his dream of becoming a cinematographer.
Williams graduated in 2012 with a master’s degree in cinema production from DePaul University but has struggled to get his new career started. He landed with Uber last year and now makes his way from his South Side home to downtown each afternoon, chauffeuring urbanites around until the early morning.
After more than two years without health insurance, Williams signed up for the Affordable Care Act when he learned he could afford it at $230 a month with a government subsidy.
“It’s kind of expensive to me, but I don’t mind,” Williams said. “It beats going to the emergency room … and waiting for someone to talk to you.”
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Whether by choice or necessity, the freelancing industry has been growing. About 1 in 3, or about 53 million people nationally, consider themselves freelancers in some capacity, according to a recent national survey commissioned by the Freelancers Union, a New York-based freelancers advocacy group. The catch: no benefits.
That’s where “Obamacare” steps in to a self-directed worklife. Under the law, individuals who make less than $46,680 or families of four making up to $95,400 qualify for a government subsidy if they also don’t have access to health insurance through an employer.
“Obamacare is part of this new rising infrastructure that’s coming up around this new workforce,” said Dan Lavoie, director of strategy for the Freelancers Union. “It’s co-working spaces, job-sharing sites. There’s this whole new infrastructure that’s coming up to meet this new workforce and so little of it even existed five years ago. … There’s kind of a path now (into freelancing) and Obamacare is part of that path for people.”
Freelancers making too much money to qualify for subsidies pay much more for coverage. “Folks who aren’t subsidy eligible still face challenges,” Lavoie said.
Not everyone is convinced Obamacare increases the number of freelancers.
Bill Keenan, co-executive of the Editorial Freelancers Association, a 2,200-member New York-based group, said the public health care exchanges and subsidies are “definitely a benefit to freelancers,” many of whom were laid off from full-time jobs in the financially struggling industry, but “I’m not sure that that alone is driving any increase in the number of freelancers who are out there. I think that’s more of an economic thing: More jobs are being outsourced.”