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[Study] 34% of U.S. Workforce Freelances; 60% Earn More Than With Traditional Employment in a Year

Over the past several years, there has been a definitive increase in freelancing. This trend comes as freelance opportunities become more commonplace thanks to the rise of the “gig economy.” Meanwhile, companies seem more comfortable hiring freelance or contract workers rather than bringing on full-time hires.

To learn more about this trend, research firm Edelman Berland recently released some interesting new research, Freelancing in America: 2015.

This research polled more than 7,100 working adults in the past year, unearthing some surprising results about the popularity¬†and reasons behind freelancing. Below, we’ve dug into this research to bring you the most interesting statistics that it uncovered. Here are the details…

Key Findings

The Edelman Berland survey was conducted online on behalf of Upwork.com, polling a total of 7,107 U.S. adults in the workforce. Results were then weighted for demographic representation.

The size of the freelance workforce
Of the more than 7,100 adults surveyed, 2,429 were defined as freelancers — “Individuals who have engaged in supplemental, temporary, project or contract based work within the past 12 months.” That represents 34% of the respondents. Projected over the U.S. workforce of 157 million, that comes to about 54 million people doing some sort of freelance work.

Percent of freelancers in the US

This doesn’t mean 34% of the workforce freelances only. Anyone who did any sort of work matching the definition above is counted in this group. So if you have a full-time job and drive Uber on the weekend, you would be in the freelance group.

Why people freelance
The survey went on to learn more about why people decide to freelance, uncovering some interesting results. First, 60% of people said they freelance by choice instead of by need. In other words, they are freelancing because they want to, not that they don’t have other options.

To add more weight to the draw of freelancing, a staggering 60% of full-time freelancers earn more as a freelancer than they did with traditional employment. Of those people, 78% of earned more than their old job within one year.

Freelancers earning more within one year


Time to earn more money freelancing

When asked about why people decide to freelance, the most popular answers are fairly obvious. Flexibility, the ability to be one’s own boss, being able to work from anywhere and to earn extra money all rank the highest. Some interesting quotes from the survey shed more light on the growing interest in freelancing:

“I find it more rewarding. I work when I want, I commute only if I choose to, and my earnings are dependent on how much I choose to work.

“It’s an opportunity to stay at home with my child while I have the flexibility to work when I need to.”

“It’s a good way to utilize my skills to earn more money, with flexible hours.”

Top reasons for freelancing

How Freelancers Find Work
Of course, no one can be a freelancer if they don’t find work. The study looked at the most popular ways to find jobs.

Full-time freelancers report that the biggest source of opportunities is family and friends, followed closely by professional contacts. At this point, a majority — 51% — have obtained a freelance job online, up from 42% last year.

The rise of the “sharing economy” and services like Uber is also having a huge impact. Since just last year the number of people earning 10% or more of their income from the “sharing economy” has doubled. Today nearly a third of freelancers make 10% or more of their income from this source.

What Freelancers Worry About
Overall, there is a definite positive tone to the survey. 83% of people see the “best days are ahead” for freelancing. But it’s not all rosy.

When asked about what concerns them, 76% cited the cost of health care as at least “somewhat concerning.” That made health care the biggest worry among freelancers.

Following closely were several other common worries. Unpredictable income tied with health care as at least somewhat concerning to 76% of people. Saving for retirement and high taxation rates also scored above 70%. Surprisingly, all of these worries scored higher than finding new clients or non-paying clients.

Top freelancer concerns

What This Survey Means

This survey represents a snapshot of freelancing as the “gig economy” starts to become a major force in the United States. The data shows that freelancing is becoming more common due to choice, not out of necessity. Furthermore, more people are successfully earning greater amounts of money with freelancing than through traditional work. Still, there are major issues that freelancers will need addressed in the future, namely health care, steadier income and tax rates.

To see the full study, visit https://www.upwork.com/i/freelancinginamerica2015/

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