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New data addresses misconceptions about the freelance lifestyle

Insights from freelance knowledge worker respondents to the “Freelancing in America” survey help understand why 54% say “there is no amount of money where they would definitely take a traditional job

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - June 18, 2019 - Upwork ($UPWK), the largest freelancing website, today released new data from freelance knowledge worker respondents to Freelancing in America: 2018, the most comprehensive study of the U.S. independent workforce, conducted by independent research firm Edelman Intelligence and commissioned in partnership by Upwork and Freelancers Union. Findings address common misconceptions about freelancing in areas including pay, quality of life and work opportunities. More than three in four (76 percent) freelancers say that they are happier working independently than they were working for an employer.“There is incredible diversity within the freelance economy,” said Adam Ozimek, Chief Economist of Upwork.

“What many don’t understand is that the skilled work performed by independent knowledge workers is in important ways more similar to full-time professional jobs rather than the one-off, relatively low-skilled gigs many associate with the freelance economy. We find that businesses are rarely seeking the lowest cost option, and instead have a clear preference for quality, which in turn requires skills and experience.”Here are three common misconceptions about freelancing that the new data addresses:

There aren’t meaningful career opportunities for freelancers and it’s only a matter of time before the fad ends.

A prominent misconception that persists is that independent workers will have to go back to traditional work with an employer because freelancing does not provide meaningful career opportunities. However, new data shows that the majority of freelance knowledge workers say they are satisfied with the amount of work they’re bringing in and are optimistic about the future of independent work.

  • 72% have the amount (or more) of work that they want
  • 92% expect work opportunities for freelancers to increase in the future
  • 90% believe the best days are ahead for freelancing

"I receive multiple job requests every day, many of which are from well-known brands," said Pep Dekker, a Top Rated Google Ads expert on Upwork. "The majority of those are from businesses looking to hire for long-term, strategic work that’s critical to their business. The volume and caliber of job invitations leads me and many others I know to believe that freelancing is here to stay."

Freelancers don’t earn enough money to make a living.

Another common misconception about freelancing is that these professionals may not earn enough to make a living or support their lifestyle, especially for the long-term. According to the new data, however, the vast majority of freelance knowledge workers say they are getting paid fairly for the work that they do:

  • Two-thirds (66%) say they earn more as a freelancer than they did at their job with a traditional employer.
  • Of those, 81% say it took them less than a year to earn this level of income.
  • 82% say that in the past year, they’ve earned more compared with others who do similar work and have similar experiences.

"As a freelancer, I have more personal and financial freedom than I ever did working at a traditional job,” said Anthony Agreste, a Top Rated graphic designer on Upwork. “In my first year on Upwork, I was able to quickly reach the six-figure mark and triple my salary because I’m in complete control of my rates. This has enabled me to do things I didn’t think I’d be able to, like paying off our home loan early and maximizing our 401(k).”

The stress and uncertainty that comes with independent work takes a toll on freelancers’ happiness.

While many question what it’s like to be a freelancer, the majority of freelance knowledge workers say that being in control of their own destiny and schedule improves their overall quality of life.

  • 62% of freelancers started freelancing by choice (vs. necessity)
  • 76% say that they feel happier freelancing than they felt in a traditional job
  • 78% say their freelance work allows them to live the lifestyle they want
  • 54% say there is no amount of money where they would definitely take a traditional job

“As a military wife, I’ve moved seven times in nine years but thankfully freelancing has brought stability and consistency to my life,” said Laura Pennington Briggs, a Top Rated SEO writer on Upwork. “I used to have to start over every time my family and I moved but today, my clients are with me wherever I go. I’m happier than I have ever been before and wouldn't trade this lifestyle for anything."

About Freelancing in America: 2018

Freelancing in America is conducted by independent research firm Edelman Intelligence and co-commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union. 6,001 U.S. working adults over the age of 18 were surveyed for it online between June 21, 2018 - July 12, 2018. Of those, 2,100 were freelancers and 3,901 were non-freelancers. Results are weighted to ensure demographic representation in line with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2018 Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey.

The overall sample size of this newly released segment of “freelance knowledge workers” is 536, with a margin of error of +/- 4.2% at 95% confidence. Freelance knowledge workers include freelancers who spend 25+ weekly hours freelancing and working in at least one of the following: Accounting & Consulting, Admin Support, Arts & Entertainment, Customer Service, Data Science & Analytics, Design & Creative, Engineering & Architecture, Healthcare & Wellness, IT & Networking, Legal, Sales & Marketing, Translation, Web/Software Development, Writing, Education, Service.To see further insights from Freelancing in America, please visit here for access to the full results deck and other materials.

About Upwork

Upwork is the largest freelancing website. It enables businesses to find and work with highly skilled freelancers. 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. Our company’s mission is to create economic opportunities so people have better lives.Upwork is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., with offices in San Francisco and Chicago. For more information, visit our website at www.upwork.com or, join us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

About Freelancers Union

With over 375,000 members nationwide, Freelancers Union is the fastest-growing labor organization representing the independent workforce. We believe all workers should have the freedom to build meaningful, connected, and independent lives – backed by a system of mutual and public support. Freelancers Union members join together to build community, access benefits and educational resources, and form a powerful political constituency. For more information, visit www.freelancersunion.org.


Elisabeth Copper