Historic Rate Data: A First Look

Some time ago, an intrepid, benign reporter posted documents revealing historic rate data from the west coast. One document showed that in 1995, on PI cases, the rate was $2.81 per page. Also revealed from 1995, $3.60.  In 1998, a document showed $3.55. Almost a decade later, 2005, $3.55 a page. 2006, $3.65 a page. 2018, $3.80. Why is it important for us to learn about and publish historic rate data? Education. Every reporter is probably aware that it is now the tail end of 2019. Though I don’t have a fancy document to show it off, I can tell everyone that there are freelance reporters working for less than those 1995 rates today.

Why is this important? Inflation. Every year, the government prints more money and it enters circulation. Higher supply of money means lower value of every dollar that exists. Buying power decreases. You’ve seen this in action. Maybe your groceries seem a little bit more expensive as the years pass. Maybe a membership fee has increased. Prices can be impacted by all sorts of things. One factor is inflation.

As a matter of fact, if you use the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, it shows that that $2.81 PI page in 1995 had the buying power of 2019’s $4.69. What does this mean? Someone making $2.81 a page in 1995 was making the 2019 buying power of $4.69 a page. To have the same buying power and no raise, a 1995 reporter making $2.81 a page needs to be making $4.69 a page in 2019. As someone that was convinced to take my first jobs at $2.80 a page in 2010, I feel there is a great deal of value in investigating rates geographically and over time. If we do not mobilize and keep each other informed, we will continue to churn out students who know no better and accept deals that are largely skewed against them.

I am happy to take and report more historic rate data. If you choose to send me documents, anecdotal or memory-based rate data, or anything helpful in that regard, please take the time to tell me the location, rate, type of job or upcharge, and perhaps input on whether such rates are high, average, or low for your market.


What Rate Should Freelance Reporters Charge?

This is an interesting question for stenographers across the country. What rate should be charged? What is fair? What is a good amount of money?

I have often simply left the answer at: It should be more. I have a body of work on this site that talks about negotiation, inflation, and makes several cases for higher rates for New York freelance. It bears repeating that in New York, the current private regular rate mandated to be charged by officials is about $4.30 per page. If you’re a freelancer paying your own taxes, advertising, business costs, benefits, or workers compensation insurance, then you should consider trying to make more than that by any means necessary, including realtime, rough, daily delivery, and copy sales. The skills you bring to the table are as important as your ability to negotiate and seek out work.

Without more fanfare, let’s turn to what I did tonight. I designed a very small calculator program that takes the user’s input of how much annual salary they want to make, and divides that by all the different rates someone might charge per page to figure out how many pages you need to make that annual salary. It then takes the pages and divides those pages by 20, assuming that’s how many pages a person transcribes an hour. Then it divides  those hours by 7 to tell you how many 7-hour workdays you need to make that money. To tailor this to yourself specifically, you can either edit the calculator, do the calculations manually, or simply half, double, or triple your transcription speed.

I understand that most people do not really do anything with computer code, so I ran the program for several different salary ranges.

These are the calculations if you want to make:

$25,000 a year.

$50,000 a year.

$75,000 a year.

$100,000 a year.

$125,000 a year.

$150,000 a year.

$175,000 a year.

$200,000 a year.

The moral of the story is obvious: The lower your rate is, the more pages you need to make money. The higher your rate is, the fewer pages you need to make money. But to see this in action, let’s just take one point of data: $5.00 per page.

At $5.00 per page, you need about 35 days worth of transcribing to make $25,000 a year.

That’s about 70 days to make $50,000 a year.

That’s 140 7-hour days of transcription to make $100,000 a year.

Anecdotally, if we spend an hour transcribing for every hour we are on the machine, that’s 280 7-hour days of work. There are only 260 weekdays a year. That means to make that $100,000 a year you’re giving up 10 weekends a year at $5.00 a page. Increase the rate to 5.50 and you’re giving up no weekends. 50 cents makes that much of a difference.

Bottom line? Your rate is going to dictate not only your income, but your quality of life. Strive to be a good reporter, know your market, team up with a mentor, and make sure you’re getting paid enough to reach your goals.