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Freelancers Are Still Struggling With California's Unemployment System

A pedestrian in a facemask walks in Hollywood, California on April 23. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
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Any trip to an L.A. coffee shop (in ye olden times, i.e., two months ago) is a quick reveal that this city is full of freelancers – screenwriters, producers, actors, journalists, hair and makeup stylists, photographers and pretty much everyone who works on film sets ... the list goes on.

That's why so many freelancers and self-employed Angelenos were relieved when California finally launched an unemployment program for people who file their taxes with 1099s, rather than W2s (for payroll workers).

But now that people are getting through the not-very-smooth application process, they've noticed a catch: If you're a freelancer who gets some, even a little, income from a W2, you won't get paid the full share of unemployment that would normally correspond to your income.

That's what happened to Elizabeth Windust, a freelance makeup artist.

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Windust earns the vast majority of her income as a 1099 independent contractor. Based on that income alone, she would have likely qualified for the maximum of $450 per week in benefits, plus the extra $600 per week now going to all unemployment recipients through the end of July.

However, because a handful of her makeup jobs paid her as a W2 employee, she is now ineligible for the new program to help self-employed workers. Her benefits are instead calculated using only her W2 income.

"That's a tiny fraction of my total income," she said. Her weekly unemployment insurance award came out to $177 per week, rather than $450.

According to recent data, only 45 percent of people in L.A. are currently employed.


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