The Way We Work
October 3, 2013 by Amy Sept

There are 17.7 million independent workers in the U.S. at the moment, according to the newly released State of Independence in America report from MBO Partners, and they are overwhelmingly satisfied with the path they’ve taken.

“Most independents choose and plan to continue this path because they want control over their lives, including the ability to determine when, where and what type of work they do,” the report’s authors explain, citing their survey of more than 4,000 independent workers in the U.S. That sense of being in charge has encouraged even more professionals to join the growing ranks of independent professionalsregardless of age.

From Millennials who’ve just hit their 20s to Mature workers (68+), going independent doesn’t always happen by design, but most feel it’s a career choice with great rewards and increasingly fewer challenges. Gen Xers even noted that they see being self-employed as less riskyand more securethan traditional employment.

Further emphasizing that independents are thriving, 77 percent say they plan to stick to the status quo or get bigger; 1 in 7 intend to grow their business, and a quarter of solo professionals say they’ve hired other freelancers.

That economic impact—what the report’s authors describe as “bottom-up economic development”—is having an impact on the sluggish U.S. economy. As Gene Zaino, CEO of MBO Partners, highlighted in the Q&A with oDesk below, this “hidden job engine” cannot be ignored.

How do independent works best describe themselves? | Extracted from "2013 Independent Workforce" infographic

[extracted from “2013 Independent Workforce.” Click for full infographic.]

What did you find to be the most compelling finding of this year’s report? What was the most surprising?

The most compelling data showed that independent workers contributed $1.17 trillion to our GDP. That’s a major impact and not something we can ignore as a nation seeking growth and productivity.

The most surprising finding is that rather than considering themselves freelancers or contractors, the majority of independent workers see themselves first and foremost as “self-employed.” That was an aha moment.

How are they making an impact? | Extracted from "2013 America's Self-Employed" infographic

[Extracted from “2013 America’s Independents.” Click for full infographic.]

If you could ensure that the whole U.S. population knew one finding from the report, what would that be? 

That independent workers love their chosen lifestyle. They are the most satisfied group, with only 1 in 7 ever wanting to return to traditional employment.

The same goes for U.S. policymakers—what do you wish they knew about the independent workforce?

That independent workers are America’s hidden job engine. Independent workers hired the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time workers into contract roles in the past year.

Of America’s nearly 18 million independent workers, 14 percent, or 2.5 million, want to go on to build a bigger business, up from 12 percent a year ago. These solopreneurs and micropreneurs need our support, and should not be ignoredthey should be galvanized to reach further.

What is the biggest misconception the general public has about independent work?

That it’s for those who couldn’t find a job. The data shows the opposite is true. The majority of independents choose to go solo, and are not forced onto the path.

Any predictions for next year’s report? 

Bigger numbers and an even higher rate of economic impact. Most independents are mature, seasoned work contributors—and they aren’t going back. They are earning more, finding more support and seeing less challenges. We may be even closer than we think to a 50/50 workforce I predicted at GigaOm’s annual work conference some years ago.

To learn more about self-employment in America, download the full State of Independence in America report from MBO Partners or review the related infographics: America’s Independents: Self-Employed, Successful and Stimulating the Economy” and “2013 Independent Workforce.”

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As the Managing Editor of the Upwork blog, Amy Sept works with regular and guest writers to share information that helps freelancers and businesses navigate the future of work. A writer and social media pro, she owns Nimbyist Communications and often works remotely with non-profits, tech companies, and small business owners.