I’m opening up a 6-question survey to the public, as well as court reporting providers, for court reporting rates.
Associations are allowed to collect and distribute aggregate rate data. I’ve provided information on how newbie court reporters are taken advantage of, sometimes working decades behind inflation, due to the dearth of data about the court reporting & stenotype services industry. It is very clear to me that we must move beyond the fallacy of being unable to discuss rates that has been drilled into court reporters’ collective conscience. We must replace it with a more nuanced truth: Discussions and historical data are fair game. It is collusion and the appearance of collusion among competitors that is problematic for those of us that are true independent contractors and associations. Failing to approach this with some nuance allows our silence to be weaponized against our new people, who are told their skills are worth much less than they actually are. They try to make it work and end up leaving because they’re working too hard for too little money.
Associations also risk falling behind if they do not have this data. A lot of players are scraping up court reporter data today, including Capvision, LEK Consulting, Dialectica, and Guidepoint. I cannot yet say conclusively say how the data is being used, but I can absolutely say that it is not in the hands of court reporters, and therefore we are once again playing “catch up.”
This survey focuses on California, Illinois, New York, and Texas. As of the Ducker Report, those states had the highest court reporting demand (page 13). If you’d like to take part in the survey, please do so. You may also submit your e-mail for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card.
I am hopeful that the data collected will be a useful start to understanding the current state of the market. If nothing else, it should provide a base for discussion. Results should be announced sometime in Q3 2022.
Everyone has different page rates, but utilizing historic data from 1991 and 1999, we can get a rough idea of what the page rates would be today had they been consistently updated for inflation. It’s my hope that putting this out there often enough helps reporters know their value.
First, let’s look at the freelance rates adjusted for inflation by year. For the freelance rates, I pulled the 1991 rates right out of an old Federation of Shorthand manual.
I took the 2.75 rate from 1991, and I adjusted it for inflation each year using a Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. In 1992, for example, that $2.75 in 1991 dollars was worth $2.82 in 1992 dollars. If a reporter didn’t get a $0.07 raise between 1991 and 1992, that reporter lost buying power, and would have to work about 2% harder to make the same buying power. Doesn’t seem that bad, right? But by 2022, that $2.75 in 1991 dollars is worth $5.74 in 2022 dollars. This means that a reporter that is not making $5.74 in 2022 on a regular has to work harder to have the same buying power as a 1991 reporter. This means a reporter making $4.00 a page has to take 30% more pages than a reporter in 1991 in order to have the same buying power.
As an example of how this plays out for new reporters, when I was a new reporter in 2010 at Jaguar Reporting, I was offered $2.80 a page. Not knowing anything about the field, I took it. Adjusted for inflation, the 2010 rate would have been $4.43 on a regular. This means that to have the same buying power as a 1991 reporter, I would have had to have taken almost 40% more pages than that 1991 reporter. That’s a lot of efficiency to squeeze out of workers, whether you want to consider us common law employees or independent contractors.
Juxtaposing freelance versus official rates can be even more concerning. Officials typically receive their pages on top of a salary. Many are producing fewer pages, but adjusted for inflation, the rates appear to be far higher.
This “squeezing of efficiency” is not sustainable in the long term. The rates must go up in order to obtain and retain talent. For as long as they do not, we are asking reporters to work harder for less buying power.
This is not normal. The average workers’ pay has gone up slightly, adjusted for inflation. Because most court reporters are working for less than they were 30 years ago adjusted for inflation, stenographers’ pay has gone down. Just check out the Statista data on that. After a 2009 to 2015 crash, wages sharply rose on average. And this data doesn’t even take into account “the great resignation” of 2021 and 2022, where employees are leaving jobs for higher pay at rates never seen before!
While I’ll be the first to say that this is a wonderful career and I enjoy it very much, and I’ll even go so far as to concede we don’t have to keep up with inflation perfectly for it to remain a great career, I think this data makes the case for why there is a shortage today. We are simply not competitive in terms of wage growth, and we are asking young people and newbies to work harder for less buying power — again, in some cases, 40% less. This is compared to the average worker between 1991 and 2020, who, by 2020, could work about 15% less and have the same buying power that they did in 1991!
The lack of data in and on our field remains a fundamental problem. Trade associations are entitled to collect and distribute aggregated rate data. If we had good data from 1991 to now on the average page rate, we could simply adjust those years to be in 2022 dollars and show everyone that they’ve gone up or down. Because we do not have the data, we’re stuck with taking a fixed point in history where we knew the rate, adjusting that each year, and then comparing that to what each of us makes personally.
I’ve created another spreadsheet with all of this information. It’s available for everyone, and I encourage people to share it. It not only informs people in the stenographic camp, but also in voice writing and digital court reporting, because ultimately if they are working for less than stenographic court reporters, they are being taken advantage of while being used to push us out of the market.
Hourly Conversion for Digitals: A stenographic to digital comparison is possible by estimating average pages per hour. As a freelancer, I averaged about 40 pages an hour. Current freelancers have told me they can get as much as 60 pages an hour. The court reporter page rate encompasses transcription time and “writing time.” It can be 1 to 2 hours for every hour on the machine, so it’s safe to assume writing time is about a third of the page rate. If we take the $5.74, that 1991 rate adjusted into 2022 dollars, we can calculate that a third of that is $1.89.
Assuming 40 pages an hour, that “writing time” is worth about $75.77 an hour.
Assuming 60 pages an hour, that “writing time” is worth about $113.65 an hour.
This creates a valid argument that a digital charging less than $75.77 an hour is being underpaid. Obviously, I don’t personally believe, based on all I know today, that digital reporting is equivalent to stenography, but there are some outfits and organizations that insist on perpetuating this myth of equivalency. If they are equal, the next question is whether they are being paid equally to their historic “equals.” If the answer is no, the next question is “why?”
Conversions for Transcribers: Again, taking my assumption, based on my own experience, that transcription time is worth at least two thirds of the page rate, we can create page and hourly conversions for transcribers. From that $5.74 rate, we can derive a page rate of $3.82 in transcription time.
Assuming 40 pages an hour, that’s about $152.80 an hour.
Assuming 60 pages an hour, that’s about $229.20 an hour.
Hourly Conversion for Stenographers and Voice Writers: Assuming 40 pages an hour and the $5.74 adjusted rate, the transcription time and writing time together is worth about $229.60 an hour.
Assuming 60 pages an hour and the $5.74 adjusted rate, the transcription time and writing time together is worth about $344.40 an hour.
This might seem like a lot of money. But remember that the $229.60 to $344.40 an hour figures encompass 3 hours’ worth of work. Interestingly enough, this averages out to $76.53 to $114.80 an hour, which is comparable to what captioners charge.
_____________________________________________________ Ultimately, we can play with numbers all day long. If my work falls on blind eyes, then people will continue to get underpaid, grow discontent with the field, and leave. Because this is a very specialized field where we get better with time in, the loss of a practitioner is massive — you cannot just replace someone who’s been at this for a year, or two, or ten, slip someone brand new in, and get the same quality transcript. People will move on regardless of the methodology. I have offered fairly concrete math on the fact that we are underpaying most practitioners during a time of alleged shortage.
My next step, when I have some more time or funding, will be to begin collecting and distributing data myself. But again, I have to stress that this is something that our associations should have been doing for the last 30 years, and instead were trained and training reporters that they could not do, which enabled rate abuse that drove reporters out of the field over the last decade. This is why it is so insulting to me when it is alleged that the stenographer shortage cannot be solved. It does not take a genius to figure out that giving a class of workers the equivalent of $5.74 in 1991 and watching that value erode year after year is going to drive workers away — a fact that has somehow eluded the CEOs and business types of steno-America, and a fact that I hope is understood and embraced by the majority of our field over the next decade.
Lisa Migliore had this to add. While I feel it doesn’t detract from the overall flow of what I’m saying, I do think it is an important point and information that deserves to be included here.