While I was researching an article yesterday, I ran across the U.S. Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. Back when I was graduating from college and taking a technical writing job, I had used this site to research the average entry level salary for a technical writer. (I didn't get anything close to the average, but I'll write about that at a later date -- I've decided to spill the beans about that job, and why I left.)
I made a mental note to go back to the site and blog about it, but of course mental notes aren't as useful as written notes, so I forgot about it until now.
The U.S. Government dedicates an entire page to statistics regarding writing and editing professions. Although the statistics address permanent jobs instead of contract or freelance work, the page still provides interesting and useful information.
For instance, did you know that the median (or middle -- not the average, in other words) income for salaried writers is around $44K? That's hardly the "starving artist" picture our guidance counselors in school tried to impart to us. Even better, the top 10 percent of salaried writers earn more than $90K a year. Granted, freelancing is a different ball game, but these numbers are still encouraging.
This page can also be useful for setting your rates -- or even dealing with cheapskate clients. You can use the page to determine what a reasonable expectation is for an annual income, divided by the 52 (weeks in a year), and then divided again by the number of (billable) hours you will be working each week. And there you have it: the hourly rate you'll want to strive for!
And if you are a smarta$$ like me, you can send this link to each and every client who claims that writers don't (or shouldn't) get paid professional wages. (Or every friend or relative who says to you, "You can't make a living as a writer.")
Have fun with it!