Largest independent workforce survey — commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union — reveals new insights into freelancing in America
Key findings: Freelancers earned an estimated $1 trillion this year, are a highly motivated voter bloc eager to support 2016 candidates who speak to their issues
NEW YORK and MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – October 6, 2016 – Upwork in partnership with Freelancers Union today released the results of “Freelancing in America: 2016,” the most comprehensive measure of the U.S. independent workforce. The study analyzes the size of the freelance economy and provides insights into the lives of independent workers and their potential impact on the 2016 Presidential Election. The third annual year of the study is a landmark year since trend data is now available.
“The freelance workforce is the fastest-growing component of the economy. Figuring out where it is going is the most pressing question of our digital age. Working together, Upwork and Freelancers Union are asking the questions that matter, and, through their unique position, finding the answers that we all want to know,” said Louis Hyman, Associate Professor and Director of the Institute for Workplace Studies, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
Most notable trends the study reveals:
- Freelancing is growing – The freelance workforce grew from 53 million in 2014 to 55 million in 2016 and currently represents 35% of the U.S. workforce. The freelance workforce earned an estimated $1 trillion this past year, representing a significant share of the U.S. economy.
- People are increasingly freelancing by choice as the job market changes – Asked whether they started freelancing more by choice or necessity, 63% of freelancers said by choice — up 10 points (from 53%) since 2014. The majority of freelancers said that today, having a diversified portfolio of clients is more secure than having one employer.
- Technology is enabling freelancing – 73% of freelancers said that technology has made it easier to find freelance work — up 4 points (from 69%) since 2014. Additionally, 66% of freelancers said the amount of work they have obtained online has increased in the past year.
Freelancers and the 2016 elections:
- Freelancers will turn out at the polls – 85% of freelancers said they are likely to vote (47 million voters).
- Current candidate preference – 45% of freelancers said they’d vote for Hillary Clinton, 33% said they’d vote for Donald Trump, 9% said they’d vote for Gary Johnson, and 12% said they were undecided (among freelancers who said they’re likely to vote).
- Candidates can win freelancers’ votes – 68% of freelancers said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported their interests.
- Messages that resonate most with freelancers – 67% of freelancers are more likely to vote for candidates who say they support them having “a strong voice in deciding issues about their work” or “having access to health and retirement benefits regardless of their employment status.”
- Desire for more discussion of freelancers’ interests – 70% of freelancers said we need more open discussion of how to empower the independent workforce, up 7 points (from 63%) since 2015.
“Freelancers want to know that America supports them,” said Upwork CEO, Stephane Kasriel. “Independent professionals are an increasingly integral part of the U.S. workforce. We should be addressing their interests or America will fall behind countries that are better equipping their evolving workforces. This discussion is tricky though because there is no shortcut to understanding who a ‘freelancer’ is — the independent workforce is diverse given each individual’s freedom to create their own path. Though blanket statements are treacherous, this study is our effort to help open up more discussion and increase understanding.”
“This year’s survey shows that freelancers are a diverse but vital part of the U.S. economy, contributing over $1 trillion in freelance earnings to the economy. As their ranks continue to swell, they have come to represent a largely untapped voter bloc that could have huge implications for our political system. Highly motivated and eager to support the candidate that speaks to their needs as freelancers, their votes could be make-or-break in this year’s elections, particularly if the polls continue to tighten. Now’s the time for business leaders, policy makers and candidates alike to stand up and take notice of their potential influence and to start developing ways to help them overcome the most pressing issues impacting their lives,” said Freelancers Union Founder and Executive Director, Sara Horowitz.
Other study findings reveal the forces both motivating and inhibiting growth of the freelance workforce:
Motivating growth of freelancing
More than three-quarters (79%) of freelancers said they view freelancing as better than working at a traditional job with an employer. In fact, freelancers were much more likely to describe themselves as “engaged” in their work than non-freelancers (85% of freelancers vs. only 68% of non-freelancers). Half of freelancers (50%) said they wouldn’t go back to a traditional job, no matter how much pay they were offered.
People freelance for freedom and flexibility. Among full-time freelancers, the top three reasons people said they freelance in rank order were: 1) To be their own boss, 2) To have work schedule flexibility and 3) To have work location flexibility. 77% of freelancers agree freelancing provides a good work-life balance. On average, full-time freelancers work 36 hours per week, and the majority (52%) say they have the right amount of work.
Perceptions of freelancing are also changing. 59% of freelancers think the freelance job market has changed as compared to three years ago. Of these, 63% said perceptions of freelancing as a career are becoming more positive, and 60% said freelancing has become more respected as a career path. Nearly half (46%) of full-time freelancers raised their rates in the past year, and more than half (54%) plan to raise them next year. The majority of freelancers said that today, having a diversified portfolio of clients is more secure than having one employer.
Holding back growth of freelancing
Income predictability and related issues are most on freelancers’ minds. Among full-time freelancers, top concerns in rank order were: 1) Being paid a fair rate, 2) Unpredictable income and 3) Debt. Benefits was also a key issue, with 20% of full-time freelancers without health insurance and 54% of those who purchase health plans on their own paying more than the previous year. When it comes to benefits, two-thirds of freelancers also said they would prefer to purchase benefits on their own versus 34% who would prefer receiving a benefits package from an employer or client and taking home less pay.
About Freelancing in America: 2016
To see further insights, please visit the results deck here. The study is conducted by independent research firm Edelman Intelligence. More than 6,000 U.S. working adults over the age of 18 were surveyed for it online between July 29, 2016 – August 24, 2016. Of those, 2,049 were freelancers and 3,953 were non-freelancers. Results are weighted to ensure demographic representation in line with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey. The study has an overall margin of error of ±1.27% at the 95% level of confidence.
Upwork is the world’s largest freelancing website. 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 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.
About Freelancers Union
Freelancers Union’s 300,000 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 55 million people – and growing. They are lawyers and nannies, graphic designers and temps. Freelancers Union serves the needs of this growing independent sector. For more information, visit www.freelancersunion.org.