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53 Million Americans Now Freelance, New Study Finds

Most Comprehensive Measurement of Independent Workforce in a Decade Shows 34% of U.S. Workers are Freelancing

Technology is making it easier to find freelance work, 69% of freelancers said

New York and San Francisco -- More than one in three workers -- 53 million Americans -- are now freelancing, according to the most comprehensive survey of the U.S. independent workforce in nearly a decade.

The study, “Freelancing in America: A National Survey of the New Workforce,” was conducted by the independent research firm Edelman Berland and commissioned by Freelancers Union in partnership with Elance-oDesk.

“Freelancing is the new normal -- and this survey shows that America’s new workforce is big, crucial, and here to stay,” said Sara Horowitz, Founder and Executive Director of Freelancers Union.

“The 53 million Americans who are freelancing already contribute more than $700 billion to our national economy and help U.S. businesses compete and find the skills that they need. This is just the start: The connected era we live in is liberating our workforce. The barriers to being a freelance professional -- finding work, collaborating with clients and getting paid on time -- are going away,” said Fabio Rosati, CEO of Elance-oDesk.


The economic impact of the 53 million Americans who are freelancing is significant -- collectively, they contribute more than $715 billion in freelance earnings to the national economy. And that impact is expected to grow in the coming years.

Findings show that:

  • Freelancers are seeing more demand for their work -- Twice as many freelancers have seen an increase in demand in the past year as have seen a decrease (32% increase, versus 15% decrease).
  • Technology is helping freelancers find work -- Nearly seven in ten (69%) freelancers said technology had made it easier to find freelance work, and 42% said they have done freelance work via the Internet.
  • As demand increases, so does reputation -- Almost two out of three (65%) freelancers said freelancing as a career path is more respected today than it was three years ago.
  • The potential for earnings is helping to drive freelancing’s growth -- 80% of non-freelancers surveyed said they would be willing to do additional work outside of their primary job if it was available and enabled them to make more money.
  • There’s room for growth -- Three times as many freelancers expect their hours to increase in the next year as expect their hours to decrease (38% expect to increase hours, versus 12% expect to decrease).
  • Millennials (workers under 35) are more likely to freelance -- 38% of Millennials are freelancing (compared to 32% of those over 35) and Millennials are also most optimistic about the future of the freelance job market, with 82% saying that the best days are ahead (compared to 74% of those over 35).


The study identified five segments of freelancers, covering the diverse range of people who are freelancing today:

  • Independent Contractors (40% of the independent workforce / 21.1 million professionals) – These “traditional” freelancers don't have an employer and instead do freelance, temporary or supplemental work on a project-to-project basis.
  • Moonlighters (27%  / 14.3 million) - Professionals with a primary, traditional job who also moonlight doing freelance work. For example, a corporate-employed web developer who also does projects for non-profits in the evening.
  • Diversified Workers (18% / 9.3 million) – People with multiple sources of income from a mix of traditional employers and freelance work. For example, someone who works the front desk at a dentist’s office 20 hours a week and fills out the rest of his income driving for Uber and doing freelance writing.
  • Temporary Workers (10% / 5.5 million) - Individuals with a single employer, client, job or contract project where their status is temporary. For example, a business strategy consultant working for one startup client on a contract basis for a months-long project.
  • Freelance Business Owners (5% / 2.8 million) – Business owners with between one and five employees who consider themselves both a freelancer and a business owner. For example, a social marketing guru who hires a team of other social marketers to build a small agency, but still identifies as a freelancer.

Mikki Morrissette of Minneapolis spent more than a decade in corporate publishing in New York City before switching over to become a freelance writer and communications specialist 15 years ago.

"I am so much happier in this new stage of my career," Morrissette said. "As a single mom with two kids, and an itch for travel, I love the flexibility. I get to choose the projects I work on and mostly work with other eclectic entrepreneurs like me. I love being free to pursue my interests where they take me."

About the “Freelancing in America” Study:

To learn more about this study, read the report here: www.freelancersunion.org/53million and see our results deck here: https://www.slideshare.net/secret/w913CdL6OVpL04.

For the study, more than 5,050 U.S. working adults over the age of 18 were surveyed online between July 19, 2014 – July 31, 2014. Of those, 1,720 were freelancers and 3,332 were non-freelancers. Results are weighted to ensure demographic representation in line with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013 Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. The study has an overall margin of error of ±1.38% at the 95% level of confidence.

About Freelancers Union

Freelancers Union’s 250,000 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 53 million people – and growing. They are lawyers and nannies, graphic designers and temps. Freelancers Union serves the needs of this growing independent sector.

About Elance-oDesk

Elance-oDesk is the world’s largest online workplace. More than 2.5 million businesses and 8 million freelancers tap into www.Elance.com and www.oDesk.com to work together via the Internet. As our increasingly connected and independent workforce goes online, talent—like software, shopping and communications before it—is shifting to the cloud. This shift is freeing professionals from set-time-and-place work, while also making it faster and easier for businesses to hire. Elance-oDesk is headquartered in Mountain View, California, with offices in San Francisco, California, and Oslo, Norway.