Freelancer Exodus

03/28/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We recently had a party for a friend who's leaving town for an undetermined
amount of time. She's a freelance writer/journalist/screenwriter who's done
very well for herself, until the last year and a half or so.

These past 18 months have been difficult for her. She's done some writing,
but mostly it's been unpaid. None of the projects she's pitched have sold.
So now she's sublet her condo (at a loss), and is off to visit her parents
and then to Central America to work on a book proposal and perhaps on a spec
script. She says she expects to be back soon. She says it may only be a
few months. But of course there are no guarantees.

Another friend, formerly a senior marketing executive at tech companies, and
more recently a consultant as she cares for her newly adopted daughter, has
moved in with her mother in Virginia this year. Only temporarily, until she
finds some sort of employment - consulting, part-time, full-time, anything
will do.

What comes to mind is something I heard when I first moved to LA, during the
dotcom boom. I was talking with a New Yorker who had been hired to run a
startup. "I was brought in as adult supervision" he told me. "In Los
Angeles," he explained, "people don't know how to work at a company. People
here don't have jobs, they have projects."

It was an interesting spin on one of my first impressions of LA. It's a
city of strivers. And sometimes freelance work is more suitable for those
types. They want the variety, and they can handle the stress associated
with constantly selling themselves to get new gigs.

The problem is that those gigs are among the first to be cut when companies
are under pressure. The first missive that goes out when a company
downsizes is - "Let go of the consultants".

So what do these people do? Sometimes they take a full-time job, if they can
find one. But more and more they're doing what my friends have done. They
move to lower costs places - like Mexico, or Central America, or India, or
their parents' homes. Places were they can duck and weather the Great

They expect to return, and I hope they will. Otherwise LA will lose some of
its vibrant and distinctive flavor.