Why the Government’s New Data on Freelancing Misses the Mark: Stephane Kasriel
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) just released its first look at contingent and alternative employment arrangements in 13 years. Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, says more data is always welcome, since it improves our understanding of changes in the American workforce.
But Kasriel explains that the government’s data may miss the mark: The centerpiece of the BLS’s findings, the number of contingent and alternative workers, is likely lower than reality. And that puts everyone at a disadvantage, including freelancers and the government itself.
“The government found that less than 6.9% [10.6 million] of American workers are freelancers. By contrast, our research estimates that workforce at 36% of American workers [57 million],” Kasriel observes on FastCompany.com.
In fact, the BLS report found that independent contracting as a share of the workforce has gone down since 2005, contradictory to the vast majority of research today.
Kasriel explains a few reasons that may account for the variance:
- Long intervals between reports: Comparable data is sporadic, with the most recent reports produced in 2001 and 2005 on the heels of data released in the 1980s and 1990s. Even these latest numbers are more than a year old. Freelancing in America, a report commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union, is conducted annually.
- Outdated benchmarks: The survey was designed using benchmarks that are consistent with the historical data but disconnected from emerging changes to the ways Americans work—and want to work.
- Limited view: The data considers a one-week snapshot of labor activity, a scope that’s out of sync with the fluctuating nature of freelance work.
The BLS data does sync with other research on some points, however. Like Freelancing in America, BLS found that independent contractors overwhelmingly prefer their work arrangement (79%) to traditional jobs. And fewer than 1 in 10 independent contractors would prefer a traditional work arrangement.
How could these preferences impact decision-making in the future?
“The more we know about Americans’ new ways of working, the better we can write policies and develop products and services to support them,” Kasriel says.
He suggests a commitment to more-frequent reports with a methodology that reflects current practices and leverages the breadth of data available—such as aggregating BLS and IRS data—could have a more meaningful impact: “[It’s] crucial to supporting such a significant segment of the U.S. economy.”
As CEO of Upwork, the largest freelancing website, and co-chair of the World Economic Forum Council on the Future of Education, Gender and Work, Stephane Kasriel is in a unique position to share his perspective on future trends—from global forces impacting the job market and the rise of the freelance economy to how companies are changing the way they build teams and the way education should evolve. An expert in staffing innovation and remote work, Stephane led a distributed team of engineers as Upwork's SVP of Engineering before ascending to be CEO. His book Hire Fast & Build Things details how to use freelancers to power businesses. Stephane holds an MBA from INSEAD, Master’s from Stanford in Computer Science and a BS from Ecole Polytechnique in France. Harvard Business Review and Bloomberg View have featured him on topics including the future of work, entrepreneurship, and how to strengthen our global economy.View Stephane Kasriel’s other articles