2nd annual “Freelancing in America” study finds more people are freelancing by choice -- 60% said they started more by choice, up 7 percentage points from last year
50% of freelancers say they would not quit freelancing and take a traditional job with an employer -- no matter how much it paid
New York and San Francisco -- More than one in three U.S. workers -- 53.7 million Americans -- are now freelancing, according to the second annual “Freelancing in America” survey.
The study, conducted by the independent research firm Edelman Berland and commissioned in partnership by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, is the most comprehensive survey of the U.S. independent workforce.
- One in three Americans are freelancing -- The percent of the U.S. workforce freelancing held steady at 34%. Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimate of the civilian labor force at 157 million, that equates to an estimated 53.7 million people who have done freelance work in the past year. This is 700,000 more freelancers than last year due to a larger overall labor force since last year.
- The majority (60%) of freelancers who left traditional employment now earn more -- Almost one in four (23%) said they quit a job with an employer in order to freelance. Of those who earn more, 78% indicated they earned more freelancing within a year or less.
- Freelancing is seen as a positive step not only for professionals, but for the economy -- More than one-third of freelancers report that demand for their services increased in the past year, and nearly half expect their income from freelancing to increase in the coming year. 82% of freelancers believe that increased opportunities for freelancers are a positive step for the economy.
- Technology is making it easier to find freelance work (73% of freelancers agree, compared to 69% in 2014) -- 3 in 4 non-freelancers are open to doing additional work outside their primary jobs to earn more money, if it was available. More than half (51%) of the freelancers had obtained a project online, up from 42% last year.
- Approaching 9 in 10 freelancers (86%) say they’re likely to vote in the 2016 U.S. general election -- Among freelancers, 63% say we need more discussion of how to empower the freelance segment of the workforce and 62% say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate if they supported their interests as a freelancer.
“People are increasingly building flexible careers on their own terms, based on their passions, desired lifestyle and access to a much broader pool of opportunities than ever before in history,” said Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork. “While we are still relatively early in the rise of the freelance workforce, there’s no doubt its growth will continue. Professionals are not only turning away from traditional employment, once they do most have no desire to go back.”
“Freelancers are pioneering a new approach to work and life – one that prioritizes family, friends and life experiences over the 9-5 rat race. This study shows that the flexibility and opportunity associated with freelancing is increasingly appealing and that is why we’ve seen such dramatic growth in the number of people choosing to freelance,” said Sara Horowitz, Freelancers Union Founder and Executive Director.
Freelancers find work through a broad range of sources and rank personal and professional contacts as their top, but online sources follow close behind
Flexibility is the top reason people choose to freelance full-time
When asked why they freelance, people freelancing full-time cited as major reasons freedom over when and where they work, being their own boss, and pursuit of work they are passionate about. Almost half of freelancers (46%) say they freelance in order to have a schedule that allows them to provide care for a family member.
Freelancers, especially Millennials, are optimistic about the outlook for freelancing
83% of freelancers believe the best days are ahead for freelancing, up from 77% last year. More than one-third of freelancers report demand for their services increased in the past year.
Among all freelancers, more than 3 in 4 (78%) would recommend freelancing to their friends and family -- with Millennials being even more favorable at 84% who said they would recommend freelancing. Millennials are also the second most likely generation to start freelancing by choice, topped only by Baby boomers.
Interest in freelancing is high among professionals and many moonlighters are considering making the leap
Most non-freelancers are open to freelancing -- 76% answered “yes” when asked if they would be willing to do additional work outside their primary job if it was available and enabled them to make more money. Meanwhile, a third of moonlighters (professionals with a primary, traditional job who are also freelancing on the side) said that they have considered quitting their primary job to work completely independently. If those moonlighters were to quit, that would add 4.6 million full-time freelancers to the workforce.
Fred Talmadge, a freelance software and app developer based in Seattle, says he's had 'profound changes' in his life since he started freelancing in 2011. "Professionally, I learn more every day by working on different types of projects of my choosing as a freelancer, and it keeps things fresh. Personally, I like my independence and can set my own schedule. I take my daughter to school and take time off when I want. When I was still at my traditional job, I dreamt of working on my own, and freelancing online has provided me that opportunity. I do not have any intentions to go back to a traditional job.”
Angela Irizarry is an integrated marketing professional who left a job in property management at the end of 2011 to freelance. She has declined full-time job offers since because she prefers the freedom of freelancing. “Freelancing is such an incredible journey for me, both personally and professionally. I get to work with some of the most talented individuals I've ever known, and have clients around the world. I'm also earning multiples more than I would be doing similar work in a traditional job.”
About the “Freelancing in America: 2015” Study:
To learn about this study, see the results deck here, which includes additional insights into freelancing such as:
- Expanded drivers and barriers
- The five freelancer segment definitions (independent contractors, freelance business owners, temporary workers, moonlighters and diversified workers)
For the study, more than 7,100 U.S. working adults over the age of 18 were surveyed online between July 30, 2015 – August 14, 2015. Of those, 2,429 were freelancers and 4,678 were non-freelancers. Results are weighted to ensure demographic representation in line with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2015 Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey. The study has an overall margin of error of ±1.16% at the 95% level of confidence.
About Freelancers Union
Freelancers Union’s 272,000 members believe all workers should have the freedom to build meaningful, connected, and independent lives – backed by a system of mutual and public support. More than one in three working Americans is an independent worker. That's almost 54 million people – and growing. They are lawyers and nannies, graphic designers and temps. Freelancers Union serves the needs of this growing independent sector.
Upwork is the world’s largest freelance talent marketplace. As an increasingly connected and independent workforce goes online, knowledge work — like software, shopping and content before it — is shifting online as well. This shift is making it faster and easier for clients to connect and work with talent in near real-time and is freeing professionals everywhere from having to work at a set time and place.
Freelancers are earning more than $1 billion annually via Upwork. Upwork is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., with offices in San Francisco and Oslo, Norway. For more information, visit our website at www.upwork.com, join us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.