The Freelance Economy in America Continues to Grow, With No Signs Of Easing: New Report


By any measure, the freelancing economy in America is growing at an alarming rate. There are no signs of it slowing down anytime soon.

According to the Freelance Forward:2021 report, which was launched today by the job board site Upwork:

  • In the previous 12 months, 59 million Americans worked as freelancers, accounting for 36% — or more than one-third — of the total U.S. workforce.
  • The share of non-temporary freelancers reached an all-time-new high. Between 2020 and 2021, the share of workers who are non-temporary freelancers grew from 33.8% to 35%.
  • The freelance economy is becoming more popular among the best educated. The higher skilled nature of freelancing is evident in the fact that 51% of post-graduate professionals practice freelancing, a 6% increase since 2020. The share of high school graduates or less freelancing has decreased from 37% in 2020 to 31% this year.

These figures are likely to rise further. According to Upwork, in the midst of The Great Resignation, more professionals are considering freelance work in the future: 56% of non-freelancers believe they are likely to freelance in the coming days.

The impact of the freelance economy

The impact of the freelance workforce on the economy is also growing. Upwork adds, in a tumultuous job market characterized by ongoing talent shortages and escalating turnover rates… the annual earnings of 59 million freelancers in the United States totaled $1.3 trillion, $100 million more than in 2020.

A surprising outcome

“It was a bit surprising that we did see a dip in the share of freelancing among individuals with high school diplomas or less education,” said Upwork chief economist Adam Ozimek.

“This was not necessarily what we were expecting, but given the temporary shortages in the labor market in lower-skilled areas there appear to be more being pulled into traditional employment right now.”

Changes from previous research

“This year we saw another increase in the percentage of post-graduate degree holders choosing to freelance. The share of those with post-grad degrees freelancing is at 51% this year, up from 45% in 2020 and 41% in 2019,” noted Ozimek.

“I think this change is in many ways a reflection of the shifting priorities of the American workforce. Partly a result of trends like The Great Resignation, highly skilled workers have the bargaining power to ask for what they want from an employer or, in some cases, freelance and dictate their own work terms.”

About the survey

Edelman Intelligence, an independent research agency, conducted the 2021 study. Between August 27, 2021, and September 29, 2021, they polled 6,000 working people in the United States over the age of 18.

There were 2,156 freelancers and 3,844 non-freelancers among them. The results were weighted to assure demographic representation in conformity with the 2020 Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the 95% level of confidence, the study has an overall 1.2% margin of error.

business leaders’ advice

Leverage talent

According to Ozimek, the poll demonstrates that many highly skilled individuals are getting into the freelance economy. Businesses should turn to and harness available talent, regardless of location or classification, as skilled labor markets tighten in 2022 and beyond.

The onboarding process

Brian Schneider is the co-founder and CEO of the marketing firm Unconquered. He said that while dealing with freelancers, they focus on three crucial areas:

  1. Set clear expectations. Define their position, expectations, and how they should collaborate with the rest of the team.
  2. Make them feel like they’re a part of the team rather than a vendor, which implies you must have a solid team culture in the first place.
  3. Allow them to work on projects and/or with clients that are a good fit for their skillset and interests. This is where you’ll find the highest level of labor as well as a sense of accomplishment among the crew.

Avoid micromanagement

Jenna Lofton, a certified financial planner, and small business owner, told Forbes that “The key is to not micromanage remote freelancers. It’s important that you give clear guidelines about what needs to get done. [It’s] also important that you allow each individual worker a degree of autonomy when it comes to planning how they want to go about getting their work completed.

“In my experience, most freelancers have been incredibly communicative and open about setting milestones and deadlines so any problems can be solved quickly before they become too unwieldy to handle.” If you’re not sure if they’re working on their assigned tasks, just shoot them an email and ask!” Lofton added.

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I’m Imad, the content creator and online marketing strategist behind The Guemmah Freelance Hub. My mission is to help more freelancers grow themselves, their business, and their profits.

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