Two new studies have appeared recently that give additional insights into the state of the freelance workforce and marketplace. The first comes from The Freelancers Union and Upwork while the second comes from financial services company Payoneer. There are a number of insights that jumped out at me as I perused both reports.
The Field Is Growing
According to FU/Upwork, there are over 57 million freelancers in the U.S. right now, a number that’s grown at three times the rate of the overall workforce in the last three years. In the next 10 years, most U.S. workers will be freelancers, thanks largely due to an influx of young people who are attracted to either the flexibility, the desire to earn a side income, the more positive perception around freelancing or the lack of other career opportunities.
What’s notable, especially as our political leadership continues debating various policy points, is that freelancers are not only more numerous, they’re contributing massively to the economy, with an impact that’s risen by 30% over the last year. But they’re concerned about healthcare coverage, the ability to save for retirement and more. 72% say they’re willing to move outside their regular political affiliation to vote for someone who advocates for issues important to them.
The Hustle Is Real
One of top concerns identified by freelancers is income predictability. Clients come and go, after all, and not every project pays as much as the last one. To combat that, freelancers more frequently update their publicly-viewable skill sets, work to diversify their income sources and more. According to Payoneer, IT & Programming and Legal service providers are most satisfied with their income level, while Writing, Design and Engineering freelancers feel there’s the most room for improvement.
How much time people spend looking for new work depends on the industry, with Legal professionals spending the most time ginning up opportunities. Overall, most everyone spends 3-6 hours a week trying to find new projects and clients. Those searches most often happen on freelance marketplaces, with personal referrals being the second major source of new work followed by social media activity.
Schedules Aren’t That Different
Freelance work doesn’t mean part-time work, at least not for most people. While about 22% of workers clock less than 20 hours a week, most everyone is pulling 30-50 hour weeks, which is in-line with the “traditional” idea of employed activity.
That doesn’t mean they’re over-extending themselves. While there are certainly some outliers, less than 20% put in over 50 hours a week. And 83% of freelancers top out at three active projects at any given time.
What Needs to Change?
If more and more people are freelancing (either out of necessity or by choice) and are going to demand accountability from their elected officials, it’s easy to see that some very basic assumptions are going to need to change in the near future. We’re going to have to have another conversation about affordable healthcare marketplaces, about universal supplementary income and the social safety nets that used to come almost solely from private employers. A growing freelance workforce is going to have subsequent increased political clout.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.