I’ve never been shy about sharing the honest highs and lows of a freelance existence here at HomeWorkingClub. With that in mind, it’s good to be able to share some good news about the state of the freelance industry.
Every year, Upwork and The Freelancers Union produce a fascinating “Freelancing in America” study. This year it has generated some very interesting and encouraging statistics.
Here are a few of them:
- 57 Million people (in America alone) have worked as freelancers this year. This equates to around 35% of the working population.
- Freelancers offering “skilled services” – such as writing, consulting and marketing – earn a median hourly rate of $28 per hour. This is more than 70% of professionals across all industries.
- 60% of freelancers state that they now work independently “through choice.” This is an important statistic, because much has been said about people feeling forced into “gig” work due to there being fewer full-time jobs.
- Furthermore, 28.5 million Americans now see freelancing as a “long-term career option,” a considerable increase on a few years ago.
Freelance Industry Demographics
One thing that’s very clear from the recent study is that younger generations are certainly leading the pack when it comes to embracing freelancing.
“Generation Z” individuals (generally regarded as those born between 1995 and 2001), are most active in the freelancing industry, with 53% reporting doing freelance work. That percentage then declines for Millennials (40%), and Generation X (31%), down to the “Baby Boomers” at 29%.
Undoubtedly, this is in part born of necessity. For fear of triggering a generational dispute, it’s both perfectly fair, and proven by data, to say that it’s much harder for younger people to get established in the kind of “job for life” careers that many baby-boomers had. There are simply far fewer of those positions, and many youngsters have been dealt a series of additional blows: Not only have they had to pay far more for a college education, they’ve had to do so in the wake of a financial crisis that has seen living standards and wages fall, in real terms, more than they have for decades.
But there’s a far brighter side to this: An increasing majority of people are choosing the freelance industry – and for the kind of reasons we’re always keen to promote on this site: variety, freedom, flexible hours, and the ability to have a portfolio career instead of just one job. This may now be a world where grafting isn’t always enough to guarantee a lifetime with one employer and a mortgage by the age of 30, but at least freelancing allows people to construct a fulfilling career around their interests and lifestyle.
Statistics around the percentage of people freelancing have been rising for years. However, some of the specific findings this year do a lot of good for the freelancing industry in general. A lot of this is down to perception.
The more people see others in their circle making a living from freelancing, the more it legitimises it as a career choice. For a long time, there has been a certain stigma attached to freelancing. Those with a more “traditional” mindset sometimes seem to think it’s something you do when you can’t find a “real job.” I’d love to say this is a myth, but I’ve experienced the stigma myself.
It’s a truly unfair perception; Over 30% of Fortune 500 companies recruit freelancers via Upwork alone. As more and more skilled and capable people move into the freelance industry, more firms will realize that that’s exactly where they need to look for talent. The two things, in theory, should feed into each other. Developments such as Upwork’s recent high-profile deal with Workforce Logiq (read about that here), seem to suggest that process is very much underway.
Obviously there’s always a downside, and for freelancers there’s the inevitable lack of job security right at the top of the list (although one could argue that far fewer jobs come with that anyway these days!) I’ve personally always believed that losing, for example, one of six regular clients, is less of a threat to your day-to-day existence than losing the one job you have.
But there are other downsides too. Freelance insurance is a minefield, especially if you’re in the US where you have to make provision for your own healthcare. Also, speaking from personal experience, juggling parenthood and childcare with freelancing, in the absence of any “help” from an employer, is quite the challenge!
However, there’s good news on that score too. Across the world, countries are beginning to offer initiatives to help freelancers, such as a scheme for freelance parental leave in Belgium, and the extension of discrimination protection for freelancers in New York.
Freelancing is on the rise, and in the coming years it seems probable that more and more people will select it as a lifestyle choice.
In many ways, it’s good to be involved in the freelance industry while it’s all still (relatively) new. If you understand things like how the freelance job boards work, what online jobs exist, and how to find new clients, you’re far more prepared for this new world than someone who obediently appears at work every morning and waits patiently for their pay-check.
Being part of a growing movement is always a good feeling!
- This article discusses the basics of getting started in freelancing.
- Here are some alternatives to Upwork if you’re looking for freelance gigs.
- Our review of Flexjobs will be of interest if you are looking for freelance positions.