A very good Article from Forbes Magazine Contributor’s Pofeldt about freelancers in America workforce.
A large-scale survey of the freelance economy shows that the number of freelance workers is growing quickly, with the number of U.S. freelancer hitting 55 million this year, up from 53 million in 2014 and 53.7 million last year.
Freelancers now make up 35% of U.S. workers and collectively earned $1 trillion in the past year, according to the “Freelancing in America: 2016″ survey released this morning by the Freelancers Union, based in New York City, and the giant freelancing platform Upwork, headquartered in Silicon Valley. The Freelancers Union represents 300,000 members.
The news is significant at a time when both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have made the need for more traditional full-time jobs a centerpiece of their campaign. In today’s economy, more people are creating their own jobs than ever before. Whether they have done so voluntarily or because they were forced into it by lack of a traditional job, many of these taxpayers do not have access to the traditional social safety net, such as unemployment insurance, or access to health care they can afford.
Although candidates have paid only scant attention to freelancers thus far, the survey found that many independent workers would respond to someone who acknowledged their needs. Sixty-eight percent of voting freelancers said they would be more likely to support a candidate who says they are explicitly representing freelancers’ interests. Portable benefits also appealed to the freelancers, with 67% saying they would support having access to health and retirement benefits regardless of their employment status. And 68% said freelancers should have the same access to credit as other workers, perhaps reflecting the difficulty even high-earning freelancers have in obtaining a mortgage.
These finding are important, given that 85% of the freelancers said they planned to vote in the upcoming general election in November. According to the research, freelancers are more likely to believe businesses support their interests than government does.
“Freelancers are one-third of the workforce,” says Freelancers Union Founder and Executive Director Sara Horowitz. “There has been a period when people went from unionized, well paying jobs with benefits. They are expressing a lot of their pain points in this election. Episodic income is a huge pain point.”
But the perils of unsteady income have not stalled the growth of freelancing–a trend driven in part by employers’ desire to turn workers’ pay from a fixed to a flexible cost. Many workers embrace freelancing because they like the benefits, such as flexible hours.
A key factor driving the recent uptick in the number of freelancers is young adults’ affinity for independent work, according Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork. “The younger part of the workforce is much more likely to be freelancing than the older part,” notes Kasriel. Among workers ages 18-24, 47% are freelancing either part-time or full-time, versus 28% of Baby Boomers, the survey found.
Many freelancers like the lifestyle. The average full-time freelancer in the survey works 36 hours a week, less than the standard 40-hour workweek–and most say they have the right amount of work. “People want a ‘freelance 360-degree’ life where they can decide what they want to do and how much they want to work,” says Horowitz. “They want four hours a week back for themselves.”
Technology, such as the proliferating number of freelance platforms and apps like Uber, is also improving access to freelance gigs. Among respondents, 73% said technology has made finding freelance work easier. Sixty-six percent said the amount of freelance work they had found online increased since last year.
Freelancers are also earning more, the survey found. Among respondents, 46% raised rates in the past year. Among those who quit a traditional job to freelance, more than half are earning more than they did getting a steady paycheck. And, perhaps reflecting their improved financial situations, 53% of freelancers believe that having a diverse portfolio of clients is more economically secure than having one employer.
In the research, more than 6,000 U.S. working adults over the age of 18 were surveyed online by independent research firm Edelman Intelligence between July 29 — August 24, 2016. Among them, 2,049 were freelancers and 3,953 were non-freelancers. The survey defined freelancers as individuals who have engaged in supplemental, temporary, project- or contract-based work within the past 12 months.
Most freelancers surveyed were not forced into it by circumstance. Among respondents, 63% said they were freelancing voluntarily, up from 53% in 2014. “That is a pretty massive shift in two years,” says Kasriel
The main motivator for full-time freelancers is to be their own boss, the survey found. For part-time freelancers, it is to make additional income. Those surveyed tend to be happy with their work, with 79% saying freelancing is better than a traditional job.
When asked how much an employer would have to pay them to take a traditional job, half of the freelancers said no amount of money would lure them.
Still, there is substantial work to be done to make the freelance lifestyle sustainable for more people. ”What policymakers need to understand is the income predictability is the wedge issue,” Horowitz says.
The survey found that among part-time freelancers, 57% said that what is preventing them from quitting their job to freelance exclusively is worries about an unsteady income. Many freelancers insulate themselves against fluctuations in their pay by saving more money in case of dry spells than non-freelancers and limiting what they spend in general, according to the survey. However, many surveys have showed that saving is difficult for many Americans, particularly those with moderate incomes–which could leave them in a difficult situation if suddenly thrust into contract work or freelancing.
To address the challenge of unpredictable income, the Freelancers Union is looking into new kinds of unemployment insurance and ways to address the lack of access to affordable healthcare that has continued to plague independent workers, despite the Affordable Care Act. The research found that 20% of full-time freelancers still don’t have health insurance.
Horowitz says more laws are also needed to ensure freelancers get paid. The Freelancers Union is promoting the Freelance Isn’t Free Act in New York City, which would crack down on people who hire freelancers but don’t pay them for their work, and is encouraging other cities to consider similar laws. ”Cities are starting to take the lead over the federal government,” says Horowitz.