• Director Dispatches

Need more proof that the Era of Big Work is over? Here it is

For much of the past century, the Era of Big Work — the 40-hour workweek and its employer-provided benefits — were the foundation of our economy. That was then.

Now, freelancing is the new normal. And a new study released yesterday from the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows what we’ve been saying for years.

The report, Contingent Workforce: Size, Characteristics, Earnings, and Benefits, details a number of interesting findings.

Here are a few that stood out:

  • The independent workforce may be as much as 40% of the population -- a number that is significantly larger than previous estimates.
  • Contingent workers are 2/3 less likely to have access to retirement plans.
  • More than 85% of self-employed and independent contractors report job satisfaction, while other contingent workers are more likely to be dissatisfied.

What does all of this mean?

First, as the stability of traditional work wanes, so does its appeal. Leaving the rat race behind is incredibly liberating-- 88% of our members say they'd never go back to full-time work. They value their time, and the work-life balance it affords.

Second, though freelancers come from tremendously varied socioeconomic backgrounds, they’re vulnerable in similar ways. Migrant day laborers, freelance graphic artists, Uber drivers, and self-employed CPAs, all experience up-and-down income, double taxation, no benefits, no safety net, and a government and culture that still doesn’t understand them or the way they work.

The silver lining here is that common challenges can promote cohesion—and eventually, common strength.

That’s why Freelancers Union is bringing independent workers together to build smarter solutions to health care, retirement, wage security, and other broken systems. It also explains why more labor unions, social purpose companies, and nonprofit organizations should be empowered and encouraged to do the same.

The data is clear: freelancing is the future of work. And we need a new economic infrastructure that supports the way that 53 million Americans are now working.

Sara Horowitz As the founder of Freelancers Union, Sara has been a voice for freelancers for over two decades.