Why a 2 Cents Per Word Rate for Content Writing = Poverty

Why 2 Cents Per Word Rate for Content Writing Is Poverty Wages header

Freelance content writers are notoriously underpaid. But just how badly underpaid some writers are doesn’t get talked about enough.

Two cents per word is considered a base rate for freelance content writing. It’s a beginner’s rate. A generalist’s rate.

A poverty-inducing rate.

And yet you’ll see it quoted as standard pay on freelance writing job boards, in the pay writers get on content mills, and in Facebook groups for freelance content writing jobs.

Lest you think I’m being overly dramatic by saying two cents is the equivalent of poverty wages, let’s do the math on what a 2 cents per word rate for content writing works out to.

The Math on What 2 Cents Per Word Works Out To

The average blog post is 1,269 words long according to a 2020 survey of 1,279 bloggers.

It takes 4 hours to write that same blog post for an experienced blogger (per that same survey).

With a two cents per word rate for content writing, a writer can earn $25.38 from that blog post.

Which works out to $6.35 per hour.

How 2 Cents Per Word Compares to the US Federal Minimum Wage and the Poverty Line

$6.35 is below the US Federal Minimum Wage, of course. And it is right at the US poverty line – if you only look at the top-level hourly rate.

Here’s the United States national poverty line table for 2021:

A 2 cents per word rate for content writing works out to be right at the US Federal poverty line

At $6.35 per hour, someone in a single-family household would have to work 2,028 hours per year to clear the poverty line.

2,028 / 52 weeks in a year = 39 hours per week.

So you can just clear the poverty line at a 2 cents per word rate. If you work full-time.

And if you don’t count taxes. (All of them – state, federal, and payroll taxes.)

And if you don’t count overhead costs. (No one will cover your computer, your software, your electricity, or your internet access.)

And if you don’t count health insurance or other job benefits.

And if you don’t count the time it took you to get the work.

And if you don’t count the time it took you to create and submit an invoice.

And if you don’t count the time it took you to get paid.

What the 2 Cents Per Word Rate for Content Writing Works Out To After Taxes and Overhead

Of course, you do have to count all those things. And boy, do they add up.

Most financial experts and CPAs recommend freelancers set aside 25-30% of their earnings just for taxes. That’s what The Balance recommends. So does Dave Ramsey.

So let’s take the average of those figures and shave 27.5% off that $6.35 per hour.

The content writer is now earning $4.60 per hour… that they can keep.

I thought maybe earnings this low might mean a reduced tax rate, but that’s actually not true. Someone earning $9,876 to $40,125 is in the 12% tax bracket for 2020. They have to pay “$987.50 plus 12% of the amount over $9,875.”

So a freelance content writer earning 2 cents per word and working 40 hours a week would earn $13,243 per year. They would pay $987.50 plus $404.23 in federal taxes. Or $1,391.73.

But that’s just federal taxes. “In addition to regular income tax, freelancers are responsible for paying the self-employment tax of 15.3% in 2020,” according to TurboTax.

That would come to $2,026.18. Just for their payroll tax.

So even before we look at state taxes, our freelance content writer’s earnings are down from $13,243 to $9,825.09.

That works out to $818.76 per month. Or $188.44 per week.

And remember: Those are earning that have to cover the freelancer’s health insurance, their internet connection, computer, and software.

That hourly rate also doesn’t count the time required to get the work or the time required to get paid for the work, or the extra fees places like PayPal like to tack onl.

Just How Common 2 Cents Per Word is for Content Writing

If this wasn’t such a common rate for freelance content writing, it wouldn’t be so bad. But just go look at the freelance writing job boards. 2 cents per word is often the norm.

Many freelance writing jobs boards offer 2 cents per word for content writing

2 cents per word is often the norm for content writing mills, too.

Many content mills pay a 2 cents per word rate for content writing

And this is consistent with what many surveys have found freelance content writing hourly rates to be. In my own survey of freelance writers, I found that 28% of freelance writers earn $15 or less per hour.

how much do freelance writers earn?

I also found that 2 cents per word is especially common among new freelance content writers.

How much recurring work you have is one of the major factors that decides whether you earn a living as a freelance writer - or not

This is similar to what other surveys of freelance writers have found: New writers tend to earn 10 cents per word of less. Often, much less.

The Good News

Yes – there is good news. Even for brand new content writers.

Once you understand how much you’ll have to pay in overhead and taxes, much less how much time it takes to find clients, you’ll be far more picky about which writing jobs you take.

Two cents per word might some bad, but workable… until you do the math. But that’s when you really see how much of a difference earning 10 cents per word can make.

Understanding the business side of content writing may also help motivate you to do other things that can drastically increase your hourly rate, like picking a niche. Or pressing for more bylines. Or building a network on LinkedIn.

All those tactics – and many more – can help you find work that is 20 cents, 30 cents, even sometimes a whole dollar per word.

But until you really look at your content writing like a business, and you really get serious about your hourly rate… you may end up making far, far less from your content writing than you’d think.