It's incredibly hard to get by as a contractor in America. It shouldn't have to be.

Retirement, paid sick days, a steady schedule — in theory, these should be a given for all working people. In practice, not so much.

Right now, a little over 10% of the American workforce is part of the “gig economy,” according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, which means that most or all of their main income comes from work they do as independent contractors or through temp, on-call, and contract work.

They aren't guaranteed direct deposits, they don't get paid-time off, and they often have to grapple with stagnating wages and self-employment taxes. Plus, there is no employer contribution when it comes to saving for retirement and health care coverage.


This means that health care can also get expensive quickly. Full-time employment versus contract employment is the difference between putting an average of $89 a month toward the health care benefits provided by your company and paying an average of $396 a month for coverage on your own.

All photos via iStock.

Making matters worse, many low-earning contractors or gig economy workers are among the 55% of Americans that live paycheck to paycheck. This means that they don’t earn enough to build a safety net in case of an unexpected emergency. According to a report by the Federal Reserve, nearly half of Americans struggle to scrape together even $400 when something unexpected comes up — like car trouble.

The solutions available during these times of emergency, such as borrowing from friends and family or payday lending, can be inaccessible or predatory, which means that these workers are often forced to make an impossible choice between feeding their family or fixing the car.

There's a clear need for a safety net for these workers — that's why one organization, The Workers Lab, is working tirelessly to provide it.

Supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, The Workers Lab funds experiments and innovations that build power for working people.

“What we learn is that working people are living the unjust reality of being poor while working harder and producing more than ever,” says Carmen Rojas, CEO of The Workers Lab.

One way to help these contractors is by providing them with access to portable benefits. These are benefits that would stay with contractors even as they move among jobs. Portable benefits could include paid sick leave, disability insurance, and an emergency fund, for starters.

“These workers deserve more than merely making ends meet. They deserve to live lives of opportunity, mobility, and dignity,” says Rojas.

The Workers Lab also believes we need to reimagine and rebuild the social safety net for all workers, regardless of where and how they work. All workers need the security of knowing that their immediate needs are being met and that they have health care, a steady paycheck, and a way to retire when it comes time for that.

“We owe it to all working people to ensure that they are not wasting the best years of their lives barely scraping by,” says Rojas.

61% of American workers struggle to come up with $1,000 in a financial emergency. To help them thrive instead of scrape by, The Workers Lab’s immediate goal is to get low-earning contractors and low wage workers the money they need when they are hit with an unexpected expense.

That's why they are working to establish a fund that would give contractors access to meaningful cash infusions for such situations — which can be a huge relief.

Failing to adapt to workers immediate needs could be detrimental to the future, which is why organizations like The Workers Lab are working so hard to find timely solutions.

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Posted by The Workers Lab on Saturday, December 30, 2017

Imagine a workforce where all you have to think about is your work. You wouldn't have to worry about whether or not you’ll be able to pay for your annual physical or your upcoming knee surgery. You can rest easy knowing that if an emergency hits, you won’t have to make an impossible choice or turn to a payday lender just to feed your family.

This might sound like an impossible dream now, but with increased awareness of the problems faced by contract workers and with organizations like The Workers Lab working tirelessly to find solutions to help workers without safety nets, it's closer to reality than ever before.

For more than 100 years, The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission has been to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Together with partners and grantees, The Rockefeller Foundation strives to catalyze and scale transformative innovations, create unlikely partnerships that span sectors, and take risks others cannot — or will not.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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