The Future of Work: Freelancing in America

Posted By on October 13, 2015


Freelancers are pioneering a new approach to work and life – one that prioritizes family, friends and life experiences over the 9-5 rat race. This study shows that the flexibility and opportunity associated with freelancing is increasingly appealing and that is why we’ve seen such dramatic growth in the number of people choosing to freelance.

Sara Horowitz, Freelancers Union Founder and Executive Director

I know the freelancing market quite intimately. I worked for helping spread the message to small businesses, entrepreneurs and others on how you can live a flexible, free, profitable and easy life. Back in August’s data scientists reviewed  326,545 jobs for trends and saw a 9%+ growth quarter-on-quarter with strong mobile development growth, Social Media is moving towards commerce, and Data Science transforming modern businesses. Things are getting interesting.

And now, we have one of the strongest freelancing platforms out there, the recently rebranded Upwork, digging a little deeper into some analysis on the American market.

The Future of Work: Freelancing in America looks at their recent study into how that lifestyle is rising.

Freelancing in America: 2015

Their report, “Freelancing in America: 2015”, is a comprehensive measurement of the independent labor force in the U.S.

It asks how many Americans are freelancing? Why? And what is the outlook freelancing in America?

This study, conducted by an independent research firm and commissioned in partnership by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, surveyed over 7,000 U.S. workers to answer these questions and more. Results showed that approaching 54 million people did freelance work in the past year, driven first and foremost by the lure of a more flexible lifestyle.

Key findings:

  • One in three Americans are freelancing — The percent of the U.S. workforce freelancing held steady at 34%. Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimate of the civilian labor force at 157 million, that equates to an estimated 53.7 million people who have done freelance work in the past year. This is 700,000 more freelancers than last year due to a larger overall labor force since last year.
    • Comment: Quite a broad range of people freelance. I’d like to know who freelances full-time and who freelances on their current job’s time – they will be the big growing trend.
  • The majority (60%) of freelancers who left traditional employment now earn more — Almost one in four (23%) said they quit a job with an employer in order to freelance. Of those who earn more, 78% indicated they earned more freelancing within a year or less.
    • Comment: Is earning more an important factor? The motivations for freelancing is not always about the money. If you work for yourselves you can actually earn less and run an incorporated business to offset a lot of costs and expenses plus you can hit the road. It’s about more happiness and more control for many.
  • Freelancing is seen as a positive step not only for professionals, but for the economy — More than one-third of freelancers report that demand for their services increased in the past year, and nearly half expect their income from freelancing to increase in the coming year. 82% of freelancers believe that increased opportunities for freelancers are a positive step for the economy.
    • Comment: But, the economic landscape will need to change. America is a ‘retail economy’. A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, proves that retail powers the American economy. According to that study, retail is the largest private employer in the United States. Retail directly and indirectly supports 42 million jobs, provides $1.6 trillion in labor income and contributes $2.6 trillion annually to U.S. GDP. Freelancers are frugal by nature. They create a rainy day fund for when work is slow. They stop spending money. So, when the workforces starts to be in the majority of freelancing the retail spending slows and just wait and see the effects on the American economy.
  • Technology is making it easier to find freelance work (73% of freelancers agree, compared to 69% in 2014)3 in 4 non-freelancers are open to doing additional work outside their primary jobs to earn more money, if it was available. More than half (51%) of the freelancers had obtained a project online, up from 42% last year.
    • Comment: It sure is. Freelance platforms have democratized access to work. The smart American freelancer builds networks of services on these platforms and uses them as an employer. That’s the key to making more money. My agency, Design:Culture:Mind, is based exactly on the model of local freelancer experts plus online creative talent. It works very efficiently.
  • Approaching 9 in 10 freelancers (86%) say they’re likely to vote in the 2016 U.S. general election Among freelancers, 63% say we need more discussion of how to empower the freelance segment of the workforce and 62% say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate if they supported their interests as a freelancer.
    • Comment: Governments are scared. That’s because unions are being undermined and the common worker is entering into new kinds of work agreements with little definition. That’s hard to control and collect taxes from. It’s going to be a fun ride.

Take a look at the full results deck here.

Now, I find this study to be a little one dimensional. It’s promo piece. The questions I want to know about are what are the prime motivators for freelancing, how does it affect your spending habits and family dynamics, how does it impact society and culture as a whole. The change is coming and for many it is already here.


Nikolas Badminton is a world-respected futurist speaker that researches, speaks, and writes about the future of work, how technology is affecting the workplace, how workers are adapting, the sharing economy, and how the world is evolving. He appears at conferences in Canada, USA, UK, and Europe. Email him to book him for your radio, TV show, or conference.

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