The world’s longest invoice reveals what freelancers are owed

Do you do work as a freelancer? If so, then you know that after you send out an invoice, getting paid is sometimes the hardest part of the job. So much so, that the majority of freelance workers around the world have experienced late payments or, worse, had clients never paid them at all. 

One group, The Freelancers Union, has had enough with this unacceptable trend and decided to do something about it. To expose the severity of the issue, they’ve created The World’s Largest Invoice. In a 2015 survey, The Freelancers Union found that 71% of freelancers had dealt with nonpayment or late payments — with the average being 98 days overdue.

“We know this is one of the biggest issues affecting the freelance workforce,” says Caitlin Pearce, director of member engagement at Freelancers Union. “On average, they were getting stiffed about $6,000, which for our members is about 13% of their income.”

Unfortunately, copywriters, designers, and programmers can’t repossess their projects if a check never arrives. And going to court to enforce a contract may end up costing more than the payment is worth; suing can also scare off potential future clients. Sadly, it’s fairly easy for clients to get away with not paying, as there’s currently no legislation in place with labour protections for freelance work.

An invoice that might never be paid

An economist has estimated that freelancer workers in New York City alone are owed up to $4.7 billion. By inviting frustrated freelancers to contribute what they’re owed, the world’s longest invoice gives an idea of the total outstanding sum. There is some hope though, as The Freelancers Union is working with New York City council members to create a new bill to offer more protection. Thereby — if it becomes law — the hope is that it can be replicated elsewhere. This would allow organizations such as the US Department of Labor to investigate and enforce penalties. Until that day, however, freelancers have one other recourse besides ranting online about deadbeat clients: public shaming.

Hoping that people will realize that it’s not an isolated problem is the reason why the world’s longest invoice was created. The invoice is currently in the billions of dollars and, sadly, it’s only going to get larger.