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Number of US freelancers rise, earn more and log 1 billion hours per week: Upwork

October 31, 2018

More people in the US are turning to freelance work, in a movement led by two groups: younger workers and those choosing to freelance on a full-time basis. Freelancing is growing faster than the traditional workforce, and freelancers are seeing their earnings rise.

That’s according to the fifth annual “Freelancing in America: 2018” report released today by Upwork, the largest B2B human cloud firm, and the Freelancers Union.

Upwork’s study estimates 56.7 million Americans freelance, an increase of 3.7 million over the past five years, driven by growth in the number of younger as well as full-time freelancers. The numbers represent an increase of 7%, while the nonfreelancing workforce rose 2% during the same time period.

Overall, 35% of Americans freelanced in 2018.

Growth came among younger workers. The study found 43% of US freelancers were between the ages of 18 and 34 this year; that’s up from 32% in 2014.

The number of people freelancing full-time also increase. This year, 28% freelanced full-time, up 11 percentage points from five years ago.

Upwork President and CEO Stephane Kasriel said a combination of factors are fueling growth among younger freelancers and full-timers. Technology, including video conferencing, is one factor that makes remote work easier.

“Whether someone’s 100 feet away from you or 100 miles away, it doesn’t matter,” Kasriel said. “It just makes freelances that much more efficient and that much easier for clients to collaborate with the freelancers.”

In addition, the number of freelancers who found work online jumped, with 64% saying they had obtained work online, up 42% from 2014. In addition, more than three in four report technology has made it easier to find freelance work.

US freelancers also worked an average of 1 billion hours per week this year. Kasriel also noted more people are freelancing by choice: 61% were freelancing by choice, up from 53% in 2014.

And freelancers are earning more money:

  • This year, 31% earned $75,000 or more and 69% earned less than $75,000.
  • That compares to 2014 when 16% of freelancers earned $75,000 or more and 84% earned less than $75,000.

“It’s not a fad, it’s not something that’s driven by tough economic times,” Kasriel said. “The number of freelancers is growing, but they are increasingly doing it by choice.”

Some of the other findings in the report:

  • Freelancers are more politically active, with 80% saying they are likely to vote and 72% saying they would cross party lines to vote for candidates that support freelancers. In addition, 61% of full-time freelancers would consider moving to a different city for a tax break of less than $5,000. They also support making healthcare more affordable and available as well as supporting retirement savings and higher pay.
  • Freelancers place more value on skills training; 70% of freelancers participated in skills training in the past six months, compared to only 49% of full-time nonfreelancers.
  • Top issue holding moonlighters back from freelancing full-time is income unpredictability, cited by 56% of respondents.

The study was done by independent research firm Edelman Intelligence and took place between June 21 and July 12. It included 6,001 US working adults over the age of 18 who had done paid work in the past 12 months. Of those, 2,100 were freelancers and 3,901 were nonfreelancers.

It includes freelancers from five groups:

  1. Diversified workers: “People with multiple sources of income from a mix of traditional employers and freelance work. For example, someone who works part-time at a startup, manages an Airbnb and does freelance coding.”
  2. Independent contractors: “These ‘traditional’ freelancers don’t have an employer and instead do freelance, temporary or supplemental work on a project-to-project basis.”
  3. Moonlighters: “Professionals with a primary, traditional job who also moonlight doing freelance work. For example, a corporate-employed web developer who does projects for nonprofits in the evening.”
  4. Freelance business owners: “These freelancers have one or more employees and consider themselves both a freelancer and a business owner. For example, a social marketing guru who hires a team of other social marketers to build a small agency, but still identifies as a freelancer.”
  5. Temporary workers: “Individuals with a single employer, client, job or contract project where their employment status is temporary. For example, a data entry worker employed by a staffing agency who is working on a three-month assignment.”


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