36 Percent of the U.S. Workforce Freelanced in the Last Year. Here’s Why That Matters.

October 18, 2017

10:50 am

The most comprehensive study of the independent workforce just landed for the year, bringing with it a couple of important data points about the continued rise of freelancing in the U.S. Not only are 36 percent of the U.S. workforce clocking freelance hours, but the study predicts, the majority of the U.S. will be freelancers in a decade, by 2027.

In July and August of this year, “Freelancing in America,” commissioned by Freelancers Union and Upwork, and conducted by independent research firm Edelman Intelligence, surveyed 6,000 U.S. adults who had worked over the previous 12 months. Here are the biggest takeaways:

Stability, Redefined

For a freelancer, stability isn’t quite what is for the rest of the workforce.

“Freelancers increasingly think that having a diversified portfolio of clients is more secure than one employer (63 percent agree, up 10 points since 2016) and have an average of 4.5 clients per month,” the survey’s release reports.

It’s a smart move, given that the non-freelance work available may be increasingly less stable. 54 percent of the U.S. workforce surveyed — not just freelancers — said they’re “not very confident that work they do will exist in 20 years.” But if you freelance, you’ll keep developing the skills you need to survive. 55 percent of freelancers have benefited from “skill-related education” over the previous six months, compared to just 30 percent of non-freelancers.

Freelancing Is a Choice

People are increasingly freelancing by choice. Back when this survey first started in 2014, 53 percent of U.S. freelancers said they started the career path by choice. Now, that number is 63 percent, a solid jump of 10 percentage points in just a few years.

Good or Bad? You Decide.

Sounds great, right? Everyone’s freelancing to develop their skills with the freedom to do what they love.

But look at it another way: Maybe the instability of non-freelance work is driving people who don’t love freelancing to use it as a safety net for the social policies that they don’t trust to protect them. It’s not a huge stretch: The CTA holiday trends report out last week noted that, of those planning to spend less during the 2017 holiday season, 33 percent had made the decision due to the current political environment.

And there’s this: The Freelancing in America study found that, “with the ebbs and flows of freelancing, full-time freelancers dip into savings more often (63 percent at least once per month versus 20 percent of full-time non-freelancers).”

Economic anxiety is likely the driving force behind the emerging freelance economy, meaning this isn’t entirely optimistic news. But it definitely looks more and more like the future of work. And hey, if it works, it works.

You can check out more results here.


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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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