Here’s the new reality of the modern economy: Freelancers are an increasingly powerful part of the American workforce.
How powerful? More than 1 in 3 U.S. workers — nearly 54 million Americans — are freelancing, according to the second annual Freelancing in America survey compiled by the Freelancers Union and Upwork. The number represents an astonishing 34 percent of U.S. workers, and it’s an increase of 700,000 over total freelancers in 2014.
“People are increasingly building flexible careers on their own terms, based on their passions, desired lifestyle and access to a much broader pool of opportunities than ever before in history,” said Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, in a prepared statement. “While we are still relatively early in the rise of the freelance workforce, there’s no doubt its growth will continue. Professionals are not only turning away from traditional employment, once they do most have no desire to go back.”
Income is a big reason why many opt to freelance to begin with, the study says. “The majority of freelancers earn more than they did at their old, traditional job, with 3 in 4 earning more within the first year of leaving.”
And more workers are freelancing by choice, according to the study. Key findings include:
- 60 percent of freelancers said they started freelancing by choice, an increase of 7 percentage points from 2014.
- Half of all freelancers say they wouldn’t stop freelancing for any amount of money
- 3 in 4 non-freelancers are open to doing additional work outside their primary jobs to earn more money, if it was available
- 73 percent of freelancers agree that technology has made it easier to find freelance work, compared to 69 percent in 2014
- Two-thirds of freelancers agree that freelancing provides the opportunity to work from anywhere, and more than a third have been able to move thanks to the flexibility freelancing provides
- More than a third of freelancers report that demand for their services increased in the past year, and nearly half expect their income from freelancing to increase in the coming year
- The vast majority (83 percent) of freelancers believe their brightest days are ahead, and 82 percent believe that increased opportunities for freelancers are a positive step for the economy
“Freelancers are pioneering a new approach to work and life – one that prioritizes family, friends and life experiences over the 9-to-5 rat race,” said Sara Horowitz, Freelancers Union founder and executive director.
The study illustrates that the flexibility and opportunity associated with freelancing is increasingly appealing, she added. “That is why we’ve seen such dramatic growth in the number of people choosing to freelance.”
For the study, more than 7,100 U.S. working adults over the age of 18 were surveyed online between July 30 and August 14. Of those, 2,429 were freelancers and 4,678 were non-freelancers. Results are weighted to ensure demographic representation in line with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2015 Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey. The study has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 1.16 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence.
This is remarkable stuff regarding a segment of the workforce that, until very recently, has gone largely unexamined. It is a new era in terms of the way we work, as well as the impact of freelancing on the economy and as a “cultural and social change on par with the Industrial Revolution.”
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