Sunday, September 7, 2014

Freelancers Taking Over

 Ran across this interesting piece puttering around today.
A new report shows some 53 million Americans—or 34 percent of the U.S. workforce—are now working as freelancers in some capacity. "This is more than an economic change," asserts the report, a joint effort from the Freelancer's Union and freelance markeplaces oDesk and eLance. It's also "a cultural and social shift" that will "have major impacts on how Americans conceive of and organize their lives, their communities, and their economic power." 
That's more than a third of the workforce. I am one of these guys. I do freelance editing for a publishing house. And I fit easily into one of the demographics below. I don't need to do this work, but I like it, and it's nice it pays a little something in return. I'm not saying I'd do this without pay, but . . . well, you take my point.

Here's how the report breaks these 34 million people out:
  • Independent contractors (21 million). This group hews closest to our "traditional" idea of freelancing: individuals whose main source of employment involves working on a project-to-project basis in their field. They make up about 40 percent of freelancers.
  • Moonlighters (14.3 million). These are individuals who work regular full-time jobs and also do some amount of freelance work. This group includes 27 percent of freelancers. 
  • Diversified workers (9.3 million). These are our serious hustlers, the folks pulling in income from multiple sources, including traditional employment and freelance work. A diversified worker may have a 20-hour per week bartending or retail job and supplement her income with freelance graphic design work and some time as an Uber driver. This group makes up about 18 percent of freelancers. 
  • Temp workers (5.5 million). Temp workers are those working with a single employer, client, job, or project but on a temporary basis. This could be "a business strategy consultant working for one startup client" (the report's example) or a recent college graduate doing grunt or admin work for different companies each week through a temp agency. They make up about one-tenth of freelancers.
  • Freelance business owners (2.8 million). This group includes people employ between one and five others and who consider themselves both freelancers and business owners. They make up 5 percent of the freelance economy.
And there are some other observations:
  • 77 percent say they make as much or more money now than they did before becoming a freelancer
  • About half (53 percent) say going freelance was totally their preference; the rest say it was out of necessity. 
  • The main reason people take on freelance work is to earn extra money (68 percent), followed by the ability to have a flexible schedule (42 percent).
What the report doesn't address are the penetrating questions posed above, which all boil down basically to what's this doing to us? It's a major cultural and social shift, with major impacts, we're told. But you look in vein for what this might mean. Which upon reflection seems reasonable since analyzing and explaining major cultural shifts is something that gets done after they get done. Would be nice to know where we're headed though.
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