Translator/interpreter pay may be determined less by top performance than by the lowest rate the market will bear while assuring a tolerable level of quality.
Before I go into the substance of this essay, which admittedly is somewhat pessimistic, I think it is important to reflect on the fact that translation and interpreting are beautiful professions. They require a very high skill level. They enable communication that would otherwise not take place, and they are a sine qua non of our globalized age.
The translation and interpretation industry is growing at a rapid pace. Since the unanimous verdict seems to be that the need for linguists is growing exponentially, you would think that we could easily command rates that would cover our expenses and more. Yet there seems to be a trend towards rate reduction. My own experience has been that at times I have had to struggle to make a living. Does this mean that our clients are bluffing us and hoping that we will just go along with lower rates even though we are more in demand than ever? That they hope we are paying more attention to the interminable financial crisis than to statistics that reveal that we are in one of the biggest growth industries?