A significant part of the U.S. workforce has gone independent, and these freelancers are not only satisfied with their work, but see even happier days ahead, according to a report published in early September.
The report is based on a survey of more than 5,000 working Americans conducted by an independent research firm for Freelancers Union, which advocates for independent workers, and Elance-oDesk, one of the many companies that have emerged as matchmakers between Corporate America and the freelance community. The goal was to quantify the shift in the American workforce from the traditional nine-to-five job to the new, “gig-to-gig, project-to-project work life.”
Some 34 percent of those surveyed said they worked as freelancers, but the survey used the term freelancer broadly. It included all kinds of freelance workers, not just freelance writers or artists, for example. And it divided freelance into four separate work styles:
• Independent contractor, which is what most people think of as the typical freelancer. Forty percent of respondents put themselves into this category.
• Moonlighters, meaning those who have traditional jobs but freelance on the side. This made up 27 percent of respondents.
• Diversified worker, which the survey defined as people with multiple sources of income including both traditional work and freelance work. Eighteen percent of respondents identified as this type.
• Freelance business owner, described as someone who has hired up to five employees but still considers herself a freelancer. This made up 5 percent of respondents.
The report acknowledged that freelancing may not have been the first choice of many of these workers. “The Great Recession exploded the notion that a ‘traditional job’ was truly secure, forcing many people to go freelance and making freelancing’s eggs-in-many-baskets risk management strategy much more attractive,” it said. Nevertheless, more than half those surveyed said they began freelancing by choice, not necessity. And the statistics from the survey hint that even those who started freelancing because they had to are finding satisfaction in a career as an independent worker. For example:
• One in three freelancers have seen demand for their services increase in the past year. Only 15 percent said it decreased.
• 43 percent expected their income to increase. Only 11 percent expected it to decrease.
• 77 percent said the best days of the freelance job market were still ahead.
• 65 percent said freelancing was more respected today than it was three years ago.
As more and more workers figure out that going independent can be a profitable and emotionally satisfying career choice, the shift in the workforce will cause more than just economic changes, notes the report. “It’s a cultural and social shift on par with the Industrial Revolution,” it said. “Just as the move from an agrarian to an industrial society had dramatic effects on social structures around civil rights, workforce participation, and even democracy itself, so too will this shift to a more independent workforce have major impacts on how Americans conceive of and organize their lives, their communities, and their economic power.”