Employment

One-Third of Americans Are Freelancers Now

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A new report shows some 53 million Americans—or 34 percent of the U.S. workforce—are now working as freelancers in some capacity. "This is more than an economic change," asserts the report, a joint effort from the Freelancer's Union and freelance markeplaces oDesk and eLance. It's also "a cultural and social shift" that will "have major impacts on how Americans conceive of and organize their lives, their communities, and their economic power." 

The first and last time anyone looked at the freelance worker population in the U.S. was 2004, in a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Back then the GAO turned up about 42 million "contingent workers," a group that included folks we would normally think of as freelancers but also all part-time workers. "It was a solid, if not particularly nuanced, effort," as the writers of the new report put it. For their purposes, they defined freelancers as "individuals who have engaged in supplemental, temporary, or project- or contract-based work in the past 12 months" and further broke the group down into five categories: 

  • Independent contractors (21 million). This group hews closest to our "traditional" idea of freelancing: individuals whose main source of employment involves working on a project-to-project basis in their field. They make up about 40 percent of freelancers.
  • Moonlighters (14.3 million). These are individuals who work regular full-time jobs and also do some amount of freelance work. This group includes 27 percent of freelancers. 
  • Diversified workers (9.3 million). These are our serious hustlers, the folks pulling in income from multiple sources, including traditional employment and freelance work. A diversified worker may have a 20-hour per week bartending or retail job and supplement her income with freelance graphic design work and some time as an Uber driver. This group makes up about 18 percent of freelancers. 
  • Temp workers (5.5 million). Temp workers are those working with a single employer, client, job, or project but on a temporary basis. This could be "a business strategy consultant working for one startup client" (the report's example) or a recent college graduate doing grunt or admin work for different companies each week through a temp agency. They make up about one-tenth of freelancers.
  • Freelance business owners (2.8 million). This group includes people employ between one and five others and who consider themselves both freelancers and business owners. They make up 5 percent of the freelance economy. 

A few more key findings about the freelance population in general: 

  • 77 percent say they make as much or more money now than they did before becoming a freelancer
  • About half (53 percent) say going freelance was totally their preference; the rest say it was out of necessity. 
  • The main reason people take on freelance work is to earn extra money (68 percent), followed by the ability to have a flexible schedule (42 percent). 

When it comes to millennials, we see an even more freelance-heavy generation. About 38 percent of those under age 35 are freelancing, compared to 32 percent of those 35 and older. Millennial freelancers are also more likely to look for job with a "positive impact on the world"—62 percent of the younger group said this was important, versus 54 percent of older freelancers. Finding freelance work that's "exciting" is also more important (62 percent versus 47 percent). 

I'm happy to say that this all squares up with what I wrote about millennial workers for Reason's latest (and millennial-themed) issue. And I'm also glad someone's dug a bit deeper into the demographics of freelance workers (with all due respect to the 2004 report, a few little things may have changed since then). To its credit, the new report remains relatively agnostic about whether these updated employment realities are better or worse than the previous paradigm(s), an agnosticism I share. There's just no use crying over a culture and economy we won't get back. What matters is what is happening now, why it's happening, and how adjust our political and cultural expectations to accommodate it. And to the first two points, this new report provides some valuable and long overdue data. 

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40 responses to “One-Third of Americans Are Freelancers Now

  1. Only when orphans freelance will we have Libertopia

    1. Freelance orphans?!?! Never shall I let them out of their 7 year indentures!

      Now, leased orphans (ie. Adorphan, Inc) are another story, entirely.

  2. A new report shows some 53 million Americans?or 34 percent of the U.S. workforce?are now working as freelancers in some capacity. “This is more than an economic change,” asserts the report, a joint effort from the Freelancer’s Union and freelance markeplaces oDesk and eLance. It’s also “a cultural and social shift” that will “have major impacts on how Americans conceive of and organize their lives, their communities, and their economic power.”

    I’m sure this phenomenon is completely unrelated to the recent explosion of the American shadow economy.

    1. I’m not unemployed, I freelance!

    2. I think we have a winner here! I know a lot of people who run little side businesses out of their homes and most of them will tell you one of the biggest advantages to it is the tax write-offs on whatever little income gets reported to the IRS. Very few of them are stupid enough to have businesses that are reported to the IRS as being profitable.

  3. Why are we concerned about this when George Will, in his latest column, is warning that Putin will invade the Baltic States and challenge NATO to World War III? We are all doomed to nuclear holocaust and reason is worrying about how many artisanal mayonnaise makers have to drive Uber cars in order to make ends meet.

    1. I think the concern over Putin and his methods are legitimate. He seems to be perfecting a method of using the Russian minorities in border states to create unrest. When the authorities are provoked into cracking down, the shooting starts with locals and imported mercenaries who suddenly own military grade weaponry.

      Things escalate from there to eventual invasion – but never a declaration of war or even an acknowledgement of Russian military involvement.

      I worry over what happens when he tries this on a NATO member. No reason to think he won’t eventually.

      1. I’m not saying it could never happen, but I would say the fact that he would be risking war (potentially nuclear war) with the United States and the rest of NATO is a pretty big reason to think that he won’t try such a thing in a NATO country.

        1. Assuming we don’t continue down the path of “it’s not OUR fight” non-interventionism and “leading from behind” policies. I believe the staunch libertarians will also agree that we should get out of NATO for just such a reason, so that we don’t have to face up to honoring the agreements.

  4. Millennial freelancers are also more likely to look for job with a “positive impact on the world”

    Ah, ain’t that sweet, that’s what most progs believe.

    I myself just finished out my final two weeks at the factory I had been working at for the last five years. It’s time to be my own boss with all the joys and headaches that entails. Besides bricklaying pays more and no more midnight shifts make it a no-brainer

    1. I myself just finished out my final two weeks at the factory I had been working at for the last five years.

      Watch out, Springsteen’s gonna steal that.

      Congratulations on the new business 🙂

    2. You know what makes “a positive impact on the world”? A job that creates a lot of wealth. While Proglodytes might believe entrepreneurs sit on their wealth like Smaug, in actuality, they invest a good portion into their businesses. This money is used to buy goods and services from others. With their incomes increased, these others have more options in their life. Etc.

      It’s like “paying it forward” but without all the patronizing moral pretension.

      1. You know what makes “a positive impact on the world”? A job that creates a lot of wealth

        I completely agree.

      2. It’s like “paying it forward” but without all the patronizing moral pretension.

        But what’s the point if you can’t get the sense of smug self satisfaction that comes from knowing that you’re better than other people? Progtards live for that shit.

      3. Yeah, seriously money that gets invested in new businesses doesn’t somehow go out of the economy. It just gets spent on different stuff.

        The Democrats would have us believe that money only stimulates the economy when poor people spend it on food.

  5. “Gonna leave this world for a while
    And I’m free, I’m freelancin'”

  6. So it’s good that one third of workers can’t get a permanent job?

    The main reason people take on ‘freelance work’ is to earn MORE money, Elizabeth–because that don’t have jobs that pay enough to let them live the way they want.

    Once you’ve moved out of mommy and daddy’s house, Elizabeth, there’s no such thing as ‘extra’ money.

    1. You know, Azathoth–more money is always useful, but I’ve had ‘extra’ money most of my adult life. It isn’t hard to do if you have marketable skills and live within your means.
      I’d also like to point out, Azathoth, that your writing style makes you sound like a lecturing, pretentious asshole who is quite bitter about how your life turned out. It reminds me of American socialist, actually.

      1. No you haven’t. You’ve had enough money to do what you want.

        No one works more for something they don’t need or want.

        ‘Extra’ money is unearned. It comes from a relative or is found. It is ‘extra’ because you didn’t have to do anything to get it.

    2. Heh. This reminds me of when she had no clue what new hire orientations entailed. Telling.

  7. I fit into the Moonlighters category, and am trying to break out into the Independent Contractor category, especially since my day job just cut me 20%.

  8. I’m not so sure that this story is quite as positive as Brown lets on. From the categories she has listed, my suspicion is that at least three of them would probably rather not be freelancers. And I suspect that’s the issue here – are we talking about people whose preference is freelance work or are we talking about people who are doing freelance work because it’s preferrable to unemployment. Just remember, those guys standing outside the Home Depot are freelancers.

  9. From Brown’s article itself, “About half (53 percent) say going freelance was totally their preference; the rest say it was out of necessity.”

    So, 47% aren’t freelancers by choice but because they can’t get a permanent full-time job. Short of the DMV, that’s one of the worst “that’s all they could get” records I’ve ever heard of.

  10. The most important question this article does not address is whether or not these freelancers have insurance. If not, we should pass a law, or something.

  11. Millennial freelancers are also more likely to look for job with a “positive impact on the world”?62 percent of the younger group said this was important

    IOW, they’re obnoxious starry eyed hipster douches who think they can “change the world” or some such shit. Spare me…

  12. Why does this remind me vaguely of the USSR?
    it’s like everyone has their “official” job that comes with all the bennies but get’s taxed up the wazoo to and the take home pay is like 50% of your nominal salary. And then you have your little shadow economy side job that pulls in an extra 20%, which is what you are really focused on.

    It reminds me of how people in the old USSR had their pretend state job, and then they would go home and grow vegeatables in their dacha and sell them on the black market.

  13. One possible good is that more people will discover that the tax code fucks over freelancers. Between having to keep track of expenses (and knowing all the rules about them perfectly) and having fifteen different 1099s and w-2s every year, it’s a frickin’ nightmare. The system is set up to be perfect for someone who has one employer, and biased against people who want to work for themselves.

    Most years I feel like going to a random liberal, sticking my paperwork in their face and yelling, you care so goddamn much how much people make, you fucking figure it out.

    1. You should really do that. Go to a Democratic Party meeting or something.

  14. my co-worker’s sister-in-law makes $64 /hr on the laptop . She has been without a job for 7 months but last month her pay was $19525 just working on the laptop for a few hours. over at this website…..

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  15. If you’re a freelancer, you have to pay taxes no matter how much you earn. You employer won’t take off taxes from your pay. So come January or February, you might take on assignments just to pay your taxes. It’s a dreary experience.

    Also, in whiny, liberal voice –

    “By hiring me as a freelancer, they don’t have to pay for my healthcare or other benefits! There’s no long term commitment! I get assignments through emails and don’t have to face my employer in person that much! It’s like, they’re hiring freelancers and “inversioning” to other companies to save cost! What can the government do to stop this corporate action!”

  16. my classmate’s aunt makes $60 /hour on the laptop . She has been unemployed for 7 months but last month her payment was $21203 just working on the laptop for a few hours. view it….

    ???????? http://www.netjob70.com

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  23. This is definitely on the rise with workers being freelancers. It seems to be a growing trend especially from 2004 to 2014 we saw a 11 million jump. We will see this continually rise.

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