Freelance translation economic context
A grandiose title, perhaps, for just a few glorified bullet points about the economic background in which a freelancer operates. One does see, however, that there are a number of freelance translators out there to whom (some of) these points have not occurred, otherwise they would not make some of the public pronouncements that they do, especially when comparing being in business as a freelance translator with other sectors of the economy, or with other areas of economic behaviour.
I'll start with one of my faves.
There's more of us than them
Most (by no means all) freelancers work through agencies to a lesser or greater extent. I have no inkling of the number of end clients those agencies are serving, but I am sure of one thing, which is that there are more freelance translators than there are agencies. So when it comes to that particular market (i.e. the agency sector) taken as a whole, it is worth noting that there are vastly more suppliers than there are customers. One effect of this is discussed here (as is the way to avoid one key effect of a market where overall suppliers outnumber overall customers).
Hence when discussing certain aspects of the translation market as a whole, it is not always helpful to draw comparisons with markets where there are more customers than suppliers, because then we are not comparing like with like.
Our clients are businesses
While on the subject of clients, they are more often than not businesses, or entities with similar organisational features... including the use of credit. If they are supplying business clients, they are usually not going to get paid on delivery - credit is extended. The length of the credit period varies from industry to industry and country to country, but it is a fact of business life.
Hence, here too, comparing your need to pay your phone bill within 2 weeks or your supermarket bill at the checkout is failing to draw a parallel with a comparable economic situation.
It might also be worth pointing out that the legislation governing consumer transactions is also typically not the same as that governing B2B transactions. While I have no wish to make light of the problem of unpaid invoices for freelancers, comparisons with what might happen if we, as consumers, failed to pay our lawyers, plumbers, ISPs, garages, or personal trainers are largely unhelpful.
We are largely unregulated
Maybe the profession is undervalued, or maybe some of us overvalue the significance of what we do. Either way, in most countries anyone can call themselves a translator, and do pretty much whatever they like. Our clients' recourse against us is actually fairly limited, and despite reading several appeals on various forums for information about translators being prosecuted for either simple breach of contract (e.g. because a translation was not "fit for purpose") or, more seriously, for the negative consequences of a faulty translation, I have yet to hear of any such case. Typically, the most severe action a client can take is withholding payment.
Translation is not a profession with strict entry requirements, such as those applying to law or medicine, where there are equally strict sanctions for charlatans and chicanery and a qualification is generally likely to be both genuine and proof of reasonable competence, and this has other effects such as not necessitating any other proof of ability, whereas translators may be asked to do tests.
While some translators may consider themselves (and let's be fair, may actually be) the intellectual equals of other professionals, too many are not. The translation industry covers too vast a range of abilities to be justifiably compared with professions that have exacting standards and apply them universally, often with very good reason, given the consequences of not doing so. (Related ideas found here.)
List of ramblings, musings and what have you