A new study claims more Americans are working for themselves than we ever expected. According to a survey commissioned by the Freelancers Union and Upwork, 55 million Americans are now participating in the freelance economy–approximately 35% of our country’s workforce.
Their study, Freelancing In America 2016, shows a clear trend: As changes in the job market make well-paying, secure full-time jobs harder to obtain or less desirable in many parts of the country, advances in technology innovation are making it easier for candidates to freelance remotely.
So What Is Freelancing, Anyway?
Naturally enough, the study has a pretty broad definition of what “freelancing” is–it defines freelancers as anyone who has engaged in “Supplemental, temporary, project- or contract-based work, within the last 12 months.” That encompasses everyone from temporary employees at big box retail chains during the Christmas season to taxi drivers (most of whom are independent contractors). In other words: It’s a big mix that doesn’t just include professional jobs like architects, journalists, and programmers.
Part of this has to do with who commissioned the study. The Freelancers Union is a professional advocacy organization for freelance workers, and Upwork is a marketplace for companies looking for freelance help.
The important thing is realizing that the market for freelancers is growing. As companies turn away from offering long-term full-time employment with a full stack of benefits, many workers are realizing freelance work offers the most viable option.
Who Are Freelancers?
Here’s something interesting: The results of the study found five distinct subgroups within the freelance economy.
Independent contractors (19.1 million Americans/35% of independent workers) don’t have an employer, and work at jobs or projects on a project-to-project basis exclusively.
Diversified workers (15.2 million Americans/28% of independent workers) mix part-time employment with side hustles, and don’t have a traditional full-time job.
Moonlighters (13.5 million Americans/25% of independent workers) have full-time jobs and work at their side hustles on off-hours.
Freelance business owners (3.6 million Americans/7% of independent workers) run their own businesses with one or more employees, but still consider themselves to be freelancers.
Temporary workers (3.6 million Americans/7% of independent workers) are employed by a single employer on a temporary, contract-based assignment.
Technology Enables Freelancing
Freelancing In America also found that technological innovations make freelancing and remote work easier. 73% of respondents said that technology has made it easier to find freelance work, which is a 4% increase versus last year’s survey. In addition, 66% of the respondents Upwork and Freelancers Union spoke with said they had an increase in the amount of work they could find online last year.
Freelancers Are Nervous About Money
There’s also a flipside: While freelancers are finding it easier to find work online, and in many cases have a financial advantage because they’re freelancing, they also worry about money.
On average, the study says, full-time freelancers work 36 hours weekly. However, issues related to income stability are the top concern for freelancers.
52% of full-time freelancers worry about being paid a fair rate, 46% about unpredictable income, and 46% about debt.
Meanwhile, part-time freelancers are concerned about how unpredictable their freelance income is. 57% of the part-timers the survey’s takers spoke with said the main thing holding them back from full-time freelance work is the worry of unpredictable income.
Approximately two-thirds of survey respondents also said they prefer to obtain insurance/retirement benefits on their own; only 34% said they would prefer to instead be paid less and receive benefits from clients/employers in exchange.