The Developing Gig Economy: Freelancers Predicted to Become the U.S. Workforce Majority Within a Decade

by Robert Carbery

In mid-October, Upwork, a global freelancing platform where businesses and individual freelance workers connect and collaborate online, released the results of a new study on the gig economy, in conjunction with Freelancers Union, titled “Freelancing in America: 2017”  — the most comprehensive measure of the U.S. independent workforce.
This is the fourth annual study of the 57.3 million American freelance workers, which amounts to 36 percent of the U.S. workforce. This chunk of the world’s top economy contributes around $1.4 trillion per year, an almost 30 percent increase year-over-year, per Upwork’s report.
The amazing takeaway from the world’s largest freelancing website is that the majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers by 2027 if current trends hold. We could get to over half of the working public deciding to be freelancers within the next decade. The current growth rate of the freelance economy is likely to continue since people seem to be choosing freelancing by choice. The study showed that 63 percent of freelancers said they chose their line and mode of work by choice, up 10 points since 2014.
Some stability comes with freelance work, despite what most people think. Freelancers in the study said they think a diverse portfolio of clients is more secure than having just one employer to rely on. However, the income predictability can be tough to get a financial budget going for many freelancers. The study found that many freelancers dip into savings more often full time employees.
“We are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution — a period of rapid change in work driven by increasing automation, but we have a unique opportunity to guide the future of work and freelancers will play more of a key role than people realize,” said Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork. “Professionals who choose to freelance make this choice knowing that, as their own boss, they are in control of their destiny. Freelancers therefore think more proactively about market trends and refresh their skills more often than traditional employees, helping advance our economy.”

This sector of the economy is growing and showing few signs of slowing down.
America’s freelance workforce grew faster than the overall workforce, far outpacing the overall U.S. workforce since 2014, numbering 53 million in 2014 and jumping up to 57.3 million this year — 8.1 percent growth versus 2.6 percent for the whole economy.
And yet, we could get to the majority of the workforce being freelancers sooner than you think if you dig into the preferences of the overly studied Millennial generation, now our country’s largest chunk of the workforce. 47 percent of this group of young professionals already freelance, a rate higher than any other generation. If Millenials get their asses to work we could see this freelance proportion of the overall economy spike even more.
But why are people choosing to freelance?
Freelancing as a career option is becoming more positive and the freelance job market seems to be greatly updated over the last few years. Career options for freelancers are being found online as 71 percent of freelancers reported getting their gigs over the internet, up 5 points from just last year.
The top motivators for people choosing freelance are:

  1. To be their own boss
  2. To choose when they work
  3. To choose their own projects
  4. To choose where they work
  5. To earn money

Add this freelance economy onto the Uber economy and the Airbnb lodging industry and you’ve got a shifting underbelly to our overall economy. Freelancers are looking for flexibility and work in a different kind of way. Independent workers and freelancers seek to make what they can to provide for their families while providing a service and fulfilling their lives. Something we all do. Things are different and the developing gig economy and freelance economy are leading the charge on today’s latest trends.
Where do we go from here?
Follow me @bobbyshantheman