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There's an inflation crisis, and it's much worse than we thought!
Thread poster: Bryan Crumpler

Bryan Crumpler  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:14
Dutch to English
+ ...
Jul 10

There's an inflation crisis, and document translation is at imminent danger of becoming an obsolete career path in the American economy. Here's why.

According to Citibank's VP of Business Analytics Intelligence, Xavier Antoine, inflation is much much worse than you think (at least, if you are American). This has far reaching implications that impact how translation professionals are able to compete in the global translation market, which has seen a sharp 50% dive in rate offerings s
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There's an inflation crisis, and document translation is at imminent danger of becoming an obsolete career path in the American economy. Here's why.

According to Citibank's VP of Business Analytics Intelligence, Xavier Antoine, inflation is much much worse than you think (at least, if you are American). This has far reaching implications that impact how translation professionals are able to compete in the global translation market, which has seen a sharp 50% dive in rate offerings since 2008, according to the International Journal of Communication (IJC).

Official Consumer Price Index (CPI) data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that the rate of inflation has remained at a subdued 2.15%, on average, from 1998 to 2018. However, this average is deceiving, as it masks dramatic cost increases in basic services Americans need but have the least discretion over in terms of pricing: health & medical care, higher education, housing, and even food. In contrast, products and services Americans need the absolute least have seen dramatic decreases in cost, from toys to mobile phone service to TVs, while high cost transportation (cars) that is already out of the reach for many, has remained relatively consistent.

Average hourly wages across all industries, however, have only kept up with inflation just enough to be a small percentage higher than the cost of housing, which is driving a homeless crisis in major cities and drop in home ownership everywhere. Home ownership, especially among African Americans for example, has reached an all time low in 50 years, in part, due to 40X rent policies, gentrification, skyrocketing property values in unliveable spaces, unaffordable monthly rents, and commuting expenses consuming over 50 to 90 per cent of living expenses. These limited factors in the cost of living index make it increasingly harder to save for retirement, medical emergencies, and other unforeseen life events.

The following chart gives a clear visualization of where we stand in terms of the cost of goods and services relative to wages:



Source: American Enterprise Institute

All of the above taken into account, the true inflation rate on these selected goods & services is 56% on average in the past 20 years, while the IJC's 2016 report shows a 50% decrease in translation rates & wages in the past decade alone. What that means is, if you were receiving assignments full time (most aren't) and able to survive off of 8 cents a word to cover all of your necessary expenses in 2008, you would need to charge an average of 17 cents per word in 2019 to maintain your lifestyle and keep the same volume of work. However, rate offerings are more and more frequently below 4 to 5 cents a word due to blind faith in PEMT services without any significant increase in productivity to justify it. This means these professionals either are suffering a steep dropoff in regularity of assignments or need to translate over 400% more words annually (i.e. work 32 billable hours per day) to keep up with the inverse rate trend relative to inflation. This is not humanly possible, and consumer markets are becoming more and more accustomed to automated translation with less concern for accuracy and quality. This trend forces American translation professionals out of the global market, allowing them merely the ability to afford toys, TVs and cheap software (i.e. drinking change) but not the ability to afford the basic necessities of life over the long term: food, housing, healthcare, medical care, transportation, household furnishings, clothing, and higher education. In that same vein, translation agencies doing business over the Internet might find themselves in a bind attempting to contract experienced language professionals in the United States based on global rate trends.

In short: on account of rate trends online and drastic inflation, foreign language professionals in the United States urgently need to shift their career focus away from document translation, especially via businesses over the Internet, and begin engaging in (more lucrative) offline services that are restricted to and, thus, pay according to their local markets. If not leaving the industry entirely for more realistically paid jobs, these services may often include on-site interpretation, language training sessions, language and accent coaching for the film & television industry, and certified/qualified translations or interpretations for courts, immigration & other government regulated services.

To conclude with a brief poem:

People always tell me,
"Your rates are just too high."
Now I have the data
To tell them all just why.
Oh my.
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Jean Lachaud
Elizabeth Chivers
dkfmmuc
mughwI
 

The Misha
Local time: 16:14
Russian to English
+ ...
The sky is always falling. Somewhere. For someone. Jul 10

I'd set macroeconomics aside and concentrate on whether you, specifically, given your specific set of skills, competencies and circumstances, can make a decent living in any particular professional occupation. If you can, well, great, power be to you. If not, move on to something else. That's all there is to it.

This also reminds me of how back in the 80s and 90s here in the States, when HIV was on everyone's mind, some folks tried to convince the rest of us that we were "all in the
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I'd set macroeconomics aside and concentrate on whether you, specifically, given your specific set of skills, competencies and circumstances, can make a decent living in any particular professional occupation. If you can, well, great, power be to you. If not, move on to something else. That's all there is to it.

This also reminds me of how back in the 80s and 90s here in the States, when HIV was on everyone's mind, some folks tried to convince the rest of us that we were "all in the same boat". Guess what? We were not.
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John Fossey
Chris S
Philip Lees
Dan Lucas
Vera Schoen
Susannalangs
Teresa Borges
 

Jean Lachaud  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:14
English to French
+ ...
Interesting stats Jul 10

These stats do confirm what my gut has been telling me. Not that I didn't believe my gut.

 

Paweł Hamerski
Local time: 22:14
English to Polish
+ ...
I agree with Misha. I will not go hang myself Jul 10

but I may wait..

 

Bryan Crumpler  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:14
Dutch to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Set nothing aside: heed this advice Jul 10

The Misha wrote:

I'd set macroeconomics aside and concentrate on whether you, specifically, given your specific set of skills, competencies and circumstances, can make a decent living in any particular professional occupation. If you can, well, great, power be to you. If not, move on to something else. That's all there is to it.


The point of the post is to present hard empirical data that shows that no matter your skill level, experience, competencies, or circumstances, it will be impossible for US based linguists to maintain a document translation career *over the long term*, simply because Americans have little to no discretion over the cost of basic goods and services that are needed for a "decent" living. Translation rates, specifically, are going in the completely opposite direction of the wage line. I have been monitoring this trend for the past 17-18 years. The only reason I survived as long as I did was because I was taking on 3rd and 4th jobs to supplement this race to the bottom.

We are already there and intelligence analysts are telling us specifically in the United States to move on or perish. I did that, and am strongly advising others to do the same. You can't make a career just on document translation anymore. It's simple math.

[Edited at 2019-07-10 19:45 GMT]


Jorge Payan
dkfmmuc
mughwI
Min Fang
 

Kaspars Melkis  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:14
Member (2005)
English to Latvian
+ ...
Wage stagnation seems to be real Jul 10

This is very controversial because statistics can be examined in different ways but Scot Alexander who critically reviews this issue, also agrees. Although there are more to it and various aspects (a country, income level, type of job) may paint a different picture.

Bryan Crumpler
 

Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Not so Jul 10

Bryan Crumpler wrote:
You can't make a career just on document translation anymore. It's simple math.


Hang on, Bryan, plenty of people here are doing just that...

Aside from this, your data are flawed. You really don’t need to more than double your rates and quadruple your output to match 56 percent inflation!


Dan Lucas
Teresa Borges
Michele Fauble
Andy Watkinson
 

The Misha
Local time: 16:14
Russian to English
+ ...
Heed you own advice then. And I will heed mine Jul 10

Bryan Crumpler wrote:

The Misha wrote:

I'd set macroeconomics aside and concentrate on whether you, specifically, given your specific set of skills, competencies and circumstances, can make a decent living in any particular professional occupation. If you can, well, great, power be to you. If not, move on to something else. That's all there is to it.


The point of the post is to present hard empirical data that shows that no matter your skill level, experience, competencies, or circumstances, it will be impossible for US based linguists to maintain a document translation career *over the long term*, simply because Americans have little to no discretion over the cost of basic goods and services that are needed for a "decent" living. Translation rates, specifically, are going in the completely opposite direction of the wage line. I have been monitoring this trend for the past 17-18 years. The only reason I survived as long as I did was because I was taking on 3rd and 4th jobs to supplement this race to the bottom.

We are already there and intelligence analysts are telling us specifically in the United States to move on or perish. I did that, and am strongly advising others to do the same. You can't make a career just on document translation anymore. It's simple math.

[Edited at 2019-07-10 19:45 GMT]


You could never, ever make a career of "document translation," whatever that means - for the simple reason that this is not a "career," at least not in this country, it isn't. It's a business like any other. Some are good at it, and some are not, and that's that. Furthermore, this is not even a business suitable for everyone, regardless of how good you may be, skill-wise. If there's ever been such a thing as a business suitable for everyone, that is.

But that's really a pointless discussion. Good luck to you in your new endeavors, which I am sure will afford you more "discretion over the cost of basic goods and services that are needed for a 'decent' living".


 

Mihai Badea
Luxembourg
Local time: 22:14
Member (Feb 2019)
Misnomer Jul 11

The objective of the Fed is to keep the inflation at about 2%. One could say: mission accomplished.

As to the translation industry, one might say the advent of machine translation had a negative impact on the perception of clients regarding the effort required to produce a quality translation, but this - I hope we can agree - has nothing to do with inflation.


Bryan Crumpler
 

Bryan Crumpler  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:14
Dutch to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
A few points... Jul 11

Mihai Badea wrote:

The objective of the Fed is to keep the inflation at about 2%. One could say: mission accomplished.


In aggregate respects, yes; though, in terms of goods and services people need to function or stay in business, not so much. That was the purpose of the CPI chart I included... so we can see where these shortfalls are, with all the fodder and noise disregarded.

Inflation for hospital care is over 200%. Avg rent in New York City (where I live) is nearly $3000/month for a 200 sq ft 1 bedroom apartment.

The poverty line in San Francisco is $117,000 a year.

Tech gurus in Silicon Valley are paying $1200 a month for a bunkbed in shared / co-living spaces with 8 to 10 roommates and no privacy.

Who can do this long term if there is a salary requirement of 40 times the rent just to qualify to live someplace? Even I was in the hospital for merely 9 days back in 2013 and was charged $1200/day for the bed alone. Wiped out the entirety of my savings. My out of pocket bill for flu testing & treatment at an urgent care center, upon falling randomly ill for 13 days, exceeded $1300 on my last visit, just because they wanted to rule out any STDs & other illnesses when the tests came back negative (common colds don't typically exceed 2 weeks). Every test came back negative, but whatever it was ran its course after week 3. I can't imagine my case is isolated.


As to the translation industry, one might say the advent of machine translation had a negative impact on the perception of clients regarding the effort required to produce a quality translation, but this - I hope we can agree - has nothing to do with inflation.


Yes, I agree with this. This much was covered in the ICJ 2016 report where the rate decrease was attributed to consumer perceptions of MT being "good enough". Not necessarily high quality, but "good enough" to get the gist. They therefore are paying less, but the neglible gains in productivity don't counterbalance the drop in rate. I most certainly am not able to do 468% more work per day unless most all of it is repetitions. And, we all know, agencies aren't paying for those anymore.


Mihai Badea
Kaspars Melkis
mughwI
 

Bryan Crumpler  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:14
Dutch to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Lol, stop the madness. Jul 11

Chris S wrote:

Bryan Crumpler wrote:
You can't make a career just on document translation anymore. It's simple math.


Hang on, Bryan, plenty of people here are doing just that...


Sorry, no, they aren't. They are sacrificing necessities to make any kind of money.


Aside from this, your data are flawed. You really don’t need to more than double your rates and quadruple your output to match 56 percent inflation!


The data is flawed? That's really bold of you to question the facts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I encourage you to brush up on your understanding of mathematics or statistics, before diving deeper into this discussion.

[Edited at 2019-07-11 04:56 GMT]


 

Maxi Schwarz  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:14
German to English
+ ...
thoughts Jul 11

Bryan Crumpler wrote:
What that means is, if you were receiving assignments full time (most aren't) and able to survive off of 8 cents a word to cover all of your necessary expenses in 2008, you would need to charge an average of 17 cents per word in 2019 to maintain your lifestyle and keep the same volume of work.

I wasn't even charging that low in 1998. My fee has increased by 1 or 2 cents on average since 2008. Volume of work is higher than it was in 2008, or even 2009 (08 was a bad year for everyone).
.. in the global translation market, which has seen a sharp 50% dive in rate offerings since 2008, according to the International Journal of Communication (IJC).

Does that Journal check what fees freelance professionals charge for translations? Where do these statistics come from? What is a "global market"? There has been no "dive" in rates from where I'm looking. The big shift I've been seeing over the past 10 years or more is that end clients have become much more Internet savvy. They know how to go straight to the source, and that has meant the opening of another sector of clientele.

There's an inflation crisis, and document translation is at imminent danger of becoming an obsolete career path in the American economy.

As a Canadian I can't talk about the situation of translation in the US, of course. However, the idea of translation becoming obsolete makes no sense to me. People emigrate, immigrate, take up citizenship, attend universities abroad; individuals and companies sell and buy products, advertise world-wide. Scientists, engineers, departments collaborate internationally across borders and countries. All this requires translations --- and quality translations. A shoddy translation will not sell a product, for example.

the true inflation rate ....

You have written a fair bit about inflation. Wouldn't that suggest a need to raise one's fees, rather than suggesting that the profession is doomed?

However, rate offerings are more and more frequently below 4 to 5 cents a word ....
.... a steep dropoff in regularity of assignments

How about the fee you charge? Clients and esp. middlemen can try to pay any kind of low amount.

You've used the word "assignment" a couple of times. A freelancer is not an employee, and work is not "assigned". Perhaps the problem lies in this area.

Well, in consideration of the neighbours to the south, I sincerely hope that things are not as bad as depicted.


 

Bryan Crumpler  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:14
Dutch to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Suit yourself Jul 11

The Misha wrote:

You could never, ever make a career of "document translation," whatever that means - for the simple reason that this is not a "career," at least not in this country, it isn't. It's a business like any other.



Oh, how I love to be careersplained.


Some are good at it, and some are not, and that's that.


I am good at it. It explains why I command the rates that I do, but I moved away from document translation as my primary income as a linguist over 3 years ago. I am not sure why you think it's going to be any different for you or anyone else.


Furthermore, this is not even a business suitable for everyone, regardless of how good you may be, skill-wise. If there's ever been such a thing as a business suitable for everyone, that is.


I like this kind of straw man, especially considering how easy it is to backtrack and read that no one suggested it was a business for everyone.


But that's really a pointless discussion.


Indeed, it is.


Good luck to you in your new endeavors, which I am sure will afford you more "discretion over the cost of basic goods and services that are needed for a 'decent' living".


Thank you, though it isn't luck that I need. As I said, I took this step many years ago when I saw what was ahead (I like to stay ahead of the curve). I am better off for it. I am an arts executive in NYC now and come out of retirement from the language industry from time to time when it pays well (usually for legal interpretation, voice-over, or film work) and doesn't interfere with my executive duties.


Kaspars Melkis
 

Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
The math Jul 11

Bryan Crumpler wrote: I encourage you to brush up on your understanding of mathematics or statistics, before diving deeper into this discussion.


Your math:

8 + 56% = 17

And

8 + 400% = 17

Or did you mean

4 or 5 + 400% = 17

Either way, telling people who are making a living from translation that it is impossible to make a living from translation is a little silly.

The outlook for translators at the bottom end of the market is no doubt bleak, but that probably goes for the bottom end of all markets and doesn’t necessarily mean that the high end too is doomed.


Andy Watkinson
 

Bryan Crumpler  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:14
Dutch to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Folks, this is not a debate. This is an advisory, and it is specific to providers in the USA. Jul 12


Does that Journal check what fees freelance professionals charge for translations?


https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/issue/view/12


Where do these statistics come from?


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. American Enterprise Institute. International Journal of Communication. As well as Xavier Antoine, the VP of Business Intelligence Analytics at Citibank, with an analysis of said interpretation provided by me Mathematical Scientist & Computer Science Scholar of UNC Chapel Hill.


What is a "global market"?


The Internet is an example of a global market, where locale does not impede one's ability to participate or compete in that market.


There has been no "dive" in rates from where I'm looking.


Aggregate data can't tell you anything about anyone's individual circumstances, but there has been a dive, and you will need to look at more rigorous data. The ICJ is clear about this. Considering how rigorous the editorial board is for the ICJ, I don't know why the data needs to be questioned, or why people who don't understand basic math are challenging me on this like this hasn't been ongoing research for the past 12 years. I get that folks want to be in denial about these hard truths, but this is not a debate. It is an advisory and presentation of facts and data gathered over a 20 year period.


As a Canadian I can't talk about the situation of translation in the US, of course.


Then why are you here to offer an opinion? This data is specific to the United States only.


However, the idea of translation becoming obsolete makes no sense to me.


Again, this forum post is SPECIFICALLY for and about freelancer service providers living and working in the United States. If you are Canadian or working in any other country, none of this data applies to you. The CPI data on healthcare alone is already something Canadians would never comprehend unless they immigrated here.


People emigrate, immigrate, take up citizenship, attend universities abroad; individuals and companies sell and buy products, advertise world-wide. Scientists, engineers, departments collaborate internationally across borders and countries. All this requires translations --- and quality translations. A shoddy translation will not sell a product, for example


I specifically covered this exception already.


You have written a fair bit about inflation. Wouldn't that suggest a need to raise one's fees, rather than suggesting that the profession is doomed?


I covered this already also; however, as I already stated, the market rates are trending downwards. Secondly, you can only raise rates so high before you begin to see a dropoff in clients or work assigned to you.


However, rate offerings are more and more frequently below 4 to 5 cents a word ....
.... a steep dropoff in regularity of assignments

How about the fee you charge? Clients and esp. middlemen can try to pay any kind of low amount.


Good luck with that. The fee I charge is strategically calculated.


You've used the word "assignment" a couple of times. A freelancer is not an employee, and work is not "assigned". Perhaps the problem lies in this area.


This distinction is irrelevant.


Well, in consideration of the neighbours to the south, I sincerely hope that things are not as bad as depicted.


They are. I am just presenting the data. But, people need to spend less time doubting experts and spend more time figuring out how to move forward. I have offered a few solutions.

[Edited at 2019-07-12 02:12 GMT]


 
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