Freelancing in America 2017 Report

I’m happy to share highlights from the 4th annual Freelancing in America report, produced jointly and published in October 2017 by the Freelancer’s Union and Upwork, the freelance job site.  The online survey queried 6002 U.S. adults who had performed full or part-time Freelance work between August 2016 – July 2017.  Freelancing was defined as temporary, project-based, or contract work performed at a for-profit or not-for-profit organization or government agency.  There are gradations of Freelancing, described as follows:

Independent Contractors          35%  exclusively Freelancing, f/t or p/t

Freelance Business Owners      7%    exclusive Freelancers who’ve hired employees

Diversified Workers                   28%   working a mix of p/t traditional jobs + Freelancing

Moonlighters                               25%   f/t or p/t traditional employees who take side projects

Temporary Workers                   7%

See the full report here  Freelancing in America 

There are now 57.3 million Freelance workers in the U.S., representing 36% of the nation’s workforce and a 30% increase over 2016, and we contributed about $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2017.  Since 2014, the Freelance workforce has grown three times faster than the traditional workforce. At that rate of growth, most U.S. workers will be Freelancers by 2027.  The Millennial generation is leading the way, with an astonishing 47% participation rate in the Freelance workforce.

Demographically, slightly more men (54%) than women (46%) are Freelancers.  There is great diversity in educational background, with 32% having earned a high school diploma or less; 24% have earned a bachelor’s degree; and 19% have an advanced degree (those statistics are nearly identical to members of traditional employees).  Most live in the South (40%) and in the suburbs (47%); 65% are white, 11% are black, 5% are Asian and those statistics also closely mirror the traditional workforce.

The majority of Freelancers report that they chose self-employment (63%) and 79% assert that Freelancing is preferable to traditional employment; 50% say they would not accept an offer of full-time traditional employment, at any salary.  Freelancers feel respected, empowered and engaged in their work, excited to start each day.

On average, the full-time Freelancer bills 36 work hours a week.  Freelancers seek to diversify the clients with whom they work and the services they provide; 63% feel that this strategy holds more advantages than working with one (presumably steady provider of adequate billable hours) client only.  In 2017, the average full-time Freelancer worked with 4.5 clients per month and repeat clients comprise 52% of their work. Economically, some Freelancers did rather well in 2017: 36% earned more than $75,000, with 19% who earned $75,000 – $99,999; 12% earned $100,000 – $149, 999; and 5% earned more than $150,000.

Presumably to enhance their value to prospective employers, Freelancers are noticeably more likely than their traditionally employed counterparts to upgrade their skills in response to an evolving job market, 65% to 45%.  Virtual-reality related skills, natural language processing and econometrics are among the fastest-growing skill sets for Freelancers.  More than 50% of Freelancers are concerned about the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence and automation on their future income, as compared to 19% of full-time traditional employees.

Cash-flow and getting paid weighs heavily on the minds of Freelancers.  Among those who participate full-time, being paid at what is perceived as fair value (52%), income unpredictability (46%) and debt (46%) are concerns. Among part-time Freelancers, difficulty in finding work (47%) and debt (56%) are primary concerns.  Sadly, 20% of full-time Freelancers lack health insurance; affordability is an issue for those with or without health coverage.

No doubt about it, there is greater economic instability in the life of a Freelancer as compared to the traditionally employed, the result of gaps in billable hours and checks that do not arrive within 30 (or even 45) days. 63% of full-time Freelancers report that they must tap into their savings one or more times a month, while only 20% of the traditional full-time employees feel the need to do so.  56% of Freelancers have less than $5000 in savings, compared to 49% of traditional employees who have such small savings. Perhaps in response to this harsh reality, 46% of full-time participants raised their hourly rates/project fees in 2017 and 54% plan to raise their rates in 2018.

Freelancing continues to have a significant impact on working and living in the U.S. and the expansion is expected to continue.  Those who Freelance full or part-time report that they’re quite satisfied with the arrangement and a chosen few are doing well financially, at least at this time.

But the spectre of debt and an inability to amass savings loom large.  The Freelancer Survey reported that in 2017, 20% of Freelancers lacked health insurance and as reported in Forbes Magazine in November 2017, 40% lack retirement savings.  Yet, traditional employment continues to hemorrhage advantages.  That promotion may come with a fancy title, but no raise to acknowledge the additional responsibilities.  The health insurance plan costs more and covers less.  Rumors of approaching lay-offs keep people awake at night.  Getting, or holding on to, your piece of the American Dream has become more difficult.

How can you cope? Remember that the best defense is a good offense.  Identify skills that can be expected to bring value-added to you and do what you can to obtain, package, promote and leverage them, whether as a traditional employee or a Freelancer.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Lewis Hine (1908) courtesy of the National Archives                                     Girls at weaving machines in Evansville, IN

member-stamp-200@2x.png

 

 

Advertisements

Freelancers: We Are the Future

Presented for your perusal are relevant statistics and observations gleaned from the third annual “Freelancing in America” survey, conducted by the Freelancer’s Union.  According to the organization, “Freelancing in America” is the largest and most comprehensive measure of independent workers conducted in the U.S.

Who we are

In 2015 55 million of our fellow citizens, representing 35% of the nation’s workforce,  participated in the Freelance economy to greater or lesser degree and we earned $1 trillion.  The survey found that 63 % of us were Freelancers by choice, rather than by necessity, and we enjoy this way of working.  Freelancers reported feeling positive about our work and 79 % preferred Freelancing to traditional employment.  We’re much more likely than our traditionally employed counterparts to feel respected, empowered and engaged in our working environment.  The survey assigned categories to different types Freelancing:

  1. Independent contractors (35 %, 19.1 million) — Full-time Freelance Consultants whose only income is derived from client work.
  2. Diversified workers (28 %, 15.2 million)– Freelance Consultants who regularly do client work, but provide themselves a guaranteed income floor by working part-time (maybe as an adjunct professor at a local college or maybe as a bartender and possibly both!).
  3. Moonlighters (25 %, 13.5 million)– those who take occasional side projects along with their traditional employment.
  4. Freelance business owners (7 %, 3.6 million)– Full-time Freelance Consultants who put together a more-or-less permanent team to form a consultancy, so that more complex and lucrative client work can be taken on.
  5. Temporary workers (7 %, 3.6 million)

What we like

Flexibility is a huge perceived benefit for the majority of Freelance Consultants and 60 % felt that a Freelance Consulting career is a respectable choice.  Further, more than 50 % of workers who left full-time employment to join the Freelance economy were able to earn more money within the first year of Freelancing.  46 % of us raised our project fees/hourly rates in 2015 and 54 % said they planned to do so in 2016.

Serious challenges

Money is an issue for Freelancers.  Survey respondents reported that adequate billable hours, negotiating fair project fees or hourly rates and receiving timely payment of invoices (or receiving full payment of accounts receivable) could be problematic.  On average, full-time Freelance Consultants obtain 36 billable hours/week. When the billable hourly rate or project fee is considered inadequate,  cash-flow is impacted and there can be a struggle to meet financial obligations.  As a result, the survey also found that debt is a real concern for us Freelancers.

Access to health insurance and retirement benefits remain major concerns.  Full-time Freelance Consultants rank medical and dental insurance as a primary concern; 20 % of us have no health insurance.  Of those who had health insurance, 54 % faced increased premium rates or deductibles in 2015 as compared to 2014.

Surprisingly, the matter of retirement funding was not addressed by the survey.  Freelance Consultants, unless we are moonlighters who have full-time traditional employment or we’re married to a spouse who receives that important benefit, must completely self-fund our retirement and many millions of us do not have the income to build a worthwhile retirement account. Please see my recent post on retirement planning for Freelancers Exit Strategy: The Retirement Plan

Shaping the future

As traditional full-time, middle class paying employment continues to disappear, the ranks of Freelance Consultants can only increase, making us a fast-growing segment of the American workforce.  Sadly, politicians have paid no attention whatsoever to either our special challenges or our voting-bloc potential.

85 % of survey respondents said that they planned to vote in the 2016 election cycle.  If that statistic can be applied to the entirety of Freelance Consultants in this country (and I feel it is unrealistically optimistic) it would represent nearly 47 million voters, more than enough to influence a presidential election.  70 % of survey respondents would appreciate candidates and political representatives addressing Freelancer needs, because no matter how lovely things may be for the chosen few who command lucrative project fees, Freelance Consultants (and most part-time workers) are vulnerable.

The holiday season approaches and that means drastically fewer billable hours will be available to the vast majority of us, as many clients limit work from about December 15 to January 2.  We will not receive holiday pay for Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Day.  How do we fund our retirement accounts and buy health insurance when it may be all we can do to cover basic living expenses? We need political representation, advocates and activism.  The Freelancer’s Union is what we have now.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/business/freelancers-union-tackles-concerns-of-independent-workers.html

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

The Best of Times!

There has never been a better time to live the self-employed life. Jacob Morgan, co-founder and principal of Chess Media Group and author of The Future of Work (2014), researches how market forces, demographics, political forces and advances in technology will likely impact the global workforce over the coming years and his research indicates that self-employment has significant momentum. “The picture for Freelancers is very good. It’s going to be a huge area going forward.”

Morgan points out what most traditionally and independently employed workers have learned over the past two decades: the steady paycheck is going the way of the dinosaurs. Those who are now age 50 or above started a career and expected to work steadily and at increasing pay for 25 or 30 years and then collect a pension as a reward for their contributions.  Employment at one company was considered an accomplishment and job-hopping was seen as instability, if not disloyalty. Morgan’s research shows that now, the average worker is employed at a place of business for an average of five years and Millennial Generation workers last an average of three years. “Nowadays, when a company is struggling, the first thing it tends to do is cut jobs.”

Because Freelance consultants typically have a list of active clients, we are somewhat insulated from the whims of business owners. We win some projects and lose others, but unlike the traditionally employed, we will not be laid off and abruptly lose all of our income. We do not qualify for unemployment benefits, but that benefit eventually runs out. The Freelance money is sometimes less than ideal, but finding project work is much easier than finding traditional employment that pays more than $20/hour, especially when the job seeker is 50 years or older. Freelancers are not at the mercy of a single employer. We have more opportunities to create options for ourselves.

As companies shed permanent workers, the demand for project-specific professional help continues to rise and for Freelancers, that is a good thing. Much depends upon one’s skill set and local economy, but the next three years and most likely more than that, look promising. Deciding which of your competencies are the most marketable and discovering how to connect with available projects forms the heart of the Freelance business model.

The uncertainties inherent in Freelance employment can also carry advantages, one of which is that you might earn a great deal of money. Traditional employment comes with income caps, unless you are employed in luxury real estate sales, high finance or big-ticket sales (fields that are overwhelmingly closed to most people).

The traditionally employed have been finding that getting a raise is harder than ever. Employers are keeping the money to themselves. The best anyone seems to get is 3%.  Bonuses and commissions for many sales reps have likewise been cut. Middle class wages have been stagnant to falling for 25 years. I’ve done adjunct teaching for 10 years and I’ve never received a raise, regardless of a decades’ worth of good evaluations from my students.

In 2010, Intuit predicted that the independently employed workforce in the US will rise to 60 million by 2020. There are already many associations and other resources, such as the Freelancer’s Union https://www.freelancersunion.org, that give relevant support to us in many practical ways, such as facilitating the purchase of affordable medical and dental insurance. Co-working spaces are available to those who need per diem meeting space at an affordable price or shared office space for those who would like to interact with a cohort of like-minded Freelancers.

Morgan recommends that those who have full-time employment consider taking on Freelance work as an experiment. “Now is an excellent time to do it, but I would do it in a smart way…do a little moonlighting and see how it goes. If it goes well, devote more effort to it. if not, you’ll have learned it’s not for you.”

Thanks for reading,

Kim