Makers and their Money
Continuing with our work from last week, Kyle, Sean, and I have continued to speak with makers in the Austin area who rely on contract-based employment. We’ve had the opportunity to learn from artists, craft workers, and construction workers about their attitudes toward money, and about how they make ends meet whenever they are completely reliant on variable income
Below, are a few stories of the people we have spoken with and what we’ve learned from them.
Jordan is a construction worker. He moved to Austin from Michoacán, Mexico in 1998. He came to work, but went to high school first, in Del Valle, just south of Austin. He enjoyed high school, playing soccer and running cross country, and he learned to speak English. When he graduated, his first job was laying carpet and flooring. Since then, his jobs have shifted: he performed stone work for a while, and now does carpentry. He lives with his wife and four children in a home in south Austin, a home that he lost during the Great Recession but was able to buy back later, at lower cost, in a fortuitous turn of events. He’s since paid off his house, but he’s now paying back loans on a new car and truck. He’s hoping he might be able to save for his daughter to go to college, but so far, it has been difficult. “I guess we’re never happy because we pay [our bills] and then we decide to go and get into debt again,” he laments. Although he’d like to have a “normal job…be an employee and just kind of take it easy,” he says, he likes the variety of his work and the fact that he always gets to learn new skills. He’s proud of his abilities and invests in his tools regularly, so that he can always find work. As he says, even when the contracts slow down, “you got bills to pay, and they don’t wait.”
Becca and Carrie run a creative studio specializing in signage, wayfinding, and art. They met in Nashville in 2012, but moved to Portland a year later so Carrie could study acupuncture. Disillusioned, she dropped out two years later, and the two moved to Austin. Becca is an artist who dropped out of her program during the Great Recession. Upon moving to Austin, she began working as an artist’s assistant, but she hated it. After getting paid $800 for a sign-painting gig, she decided to start her own business. Carrie now works alongside her, handling much of their administrative and financial management. The two have found success, mainly in the restaurant industry; every time they go out to eat, it seems, they find a new client. Like many contract workers, they find work through networking and word of mouth. After a tumultuous year of success and disappointment, including canceled corporate gigs and unplanned tax expenses, the two are working to build their way out of credit card debt. “We have insane credit cards, not like normal people credit cards,” Becca says. But it’s worth it to finally live out her dream. As she tells us, “If you don’t build your own dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs for them.”
Pete is an artist who “escaped Oklahoma in 2008” and moved to Austin in the middle of the recession. He graduated from college with degrees in graphic design, illustration, and studio art. After graduation he applied to over 3,000 jobs (he counted) and didn’t get one. He was struggling to make ends meet and remembers at one point being close to “literally starving to death.” He’s been working in the area long enough that he’s built a great reputation for himself and people call him when they need him. He said he likes it that way. People call him when they need him and he can say yes or no. He’s a jack of all trades, and works in audio, lighting, design, and recently has been getting into the photography business. When we asked him about his month to month income he said it was hard to separate his income from the way he thinks about his budget at all. “Basically, the way I think about it is that I have an overhead, and then I think about how much I need to work to cover that.” During his time in Austin, he’s been a frequent victim of gentrification–one year getting gentrified 5 times and in one of those moves was given just 15 days to move out and find a new place. This is particularly challenging for him as he has equipment that he must store at his home and then move from place to place.
We have several people left to speak with, but already some themes are emerging from this research.
Rely on their networks and relationships for work, and for increased stability over time.
Have to be in control to allow for a free flow of creativity
Are their own safety net. Confidence is a huge factor in success
Don’t compromise on their dreams and they don’t want to use their skills to build someone else’s dreams
Are system outlaws