• Advocacy

The Freelancing In America study shows that the U.S. independent workforce is a political force to be reckoned with

Today we are excited to release the sixth annual Freelancing In America study. Commissioned in partnership by Freelancers Union and Upwork, and conducted by Edelman Intelligence, this survey is the most comprehensive and widely cited overview of the growing independent workforce.

This year we find strong indicators that freelance is maturing. 57 million Americans freelanced this year, contributing nearly $1 trillion to the economy — that’s almost 5% of GDP. Since we began the study in 2014 the number of full-time freelancers has increased from 17% in 2014 to 28%, and half of all freelancers view this way of working as a long-term career choice. We also see a sustained increase in younger generations freelancing: 18 to 22-year-olds reported the highest participation rate (53%) of any age group since the study was launched.

Flexibility, autonomy, and the ability to choose projects are a key motivators for full-time freelancers. Forty-six percent of freelancers say that they able to access work, despite personal circumstances that would keep them out of traditional employment. And for part-timers, freelance gives them the potential to earn additional income and pursue work that they are passionate about.  

Our findings show that the most common type of freelance work is skilled services, with 45% of freelancers in professional fields like programming, marketing, and consulting. As such, 81% of freelancers value training as important to their work, particularly with regards to networking, gaining additional skills, and how to start and grow their careers.

But what does the freelance life really entail? We find that freelancers spend approximately half of their working time on non-billable activities related to managing and growing their business. So it is not surprising that 78% of respondents say that soft skills are equally important as professional training, and want additional training on the fundamentals of running their business — besides staying at the top of their fields.

Eighty-three percent of full-time freelancers have health insurance, and are most likely to  purchase plans on their own. However, 47% of full-time freelancers say they paid more in insurance premiums this year than they did last year. This problem is confounded by the fact that freelancers are more likely than traditional employees to have outstanding college loans or other debts, and they are more likely to say that they live paycheck to paycheck  

Freelancers are 18 percentage points more politically active that non-freelancers, and their primary wish is that politicians will focus on making healthcare more affordable and available. This is a political constituency that is poised to grow in economic and political influence — and must be heard.

Find out more about Freelancing In America.

Caitlin Pearce Former Executive Director of Freelancers Union. During her 9-year tenure, Caitlin spearheaded ambitious union initiatives such as launching Freelancers Hub and passing the Freelance Isn't Free law.