In 2019, 57 million Americans freelanced. That’s a third of the total American workforce. Freelancing now accounts for 5% of the United States GDP with more than $1 trillion of annual earnings coming from freelancing in 2018. In an economy that has been moving away from industrial manufacturing toward services for the past few decades, this is not entirely surprising. But adapting to the new job market is not the only reason why freelancing has become the favorite choice of so many American workers, especially the young ones (53% of Gen Z are already working as freelancers).
The freelancing trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down – the share of full-time freelancers went from 14% of the US Workforce in 2014 to 28% in 2019 – and nothing indicates that it will. For one, none of the factors triggering it – unaffordable cities, the search for a more balanced lifestyle – are going away anytime soon. And second, businesses and politicians are starting to pay attention which means more systems and technology to support this major economic transition are being developed.
There’s also been a cultural change in the way freelancers are perceived. For a long time, freelancers have been disregarded by institutions: lenders, landlords and fathers-in-laws alike, which never made a whole lot of sense. A full-time employee can get fired at any time, so this is in no way a more secure situation. But no matter what, an underwriter will always be happier with one paystub than 7 invoices! However, slowly but surely, change is coming. Bank accounts like Lili have developed tools to serve freelancers in their banking and tax endeavors. Platforms like Fiverr and Upwork are now helping freelancers and businesses find each other. Politicians are looking for ways to help freelancers find affordable health insurance outside the traditional employer-sponsored plan (affordable healthcare is one of the top concerns of freelancers and non-freelancers in America). And while politicians debate, organizations like the Freelancers Union are taking matters into their own hands and are negotiating better rates with insurance companies for their 490,000 members.
There is something truly American about freelancing: the self-determination, the entrepreneurship, the individual’s control of their finances. Which is why it can be a bit paradoxical sometimes that American institutions, public and private, don’t really support this business and lifestyle choice. There’s still a lot to do, but the demand from the people is clear: 51% of freelancers say no amount of money would make them take a traditional job and 59% of non-freelancers say it is likely they will do freelance work in the future.
Source: Upwork and Freelancers Union