Going Freelance: Why Everyone Is Doing It

Anna Williams

freelanceMore American workers are flying solo.

According to a recent survey, there are over 17 million Americans who are so-called “independent workers” (an overarching term for the self-employed, consultants, freelancers and temps), up 10% from 2011—and that number will likely increase to 24 million by 2018.

By the study’s predictions, there’s a good chance you may be part of that group in the near future. MBO Partners estimates that by 2020, about half of the private workforce will have at some point spent time as an independent worker.

Gen Xers seem to be leading the trend. Americans ages 34-49 make up the biggest group (36%) of independent workers. Baby Boomers are close behind (33%), followed by Millennials (20%) and those 68 years and older (11%).

Why the Shift to Freelance?

There are a number of factors likely driving this trend, the Wall Street Journal reports. One reason might be that workers are simply craving more career independence and flexibility on the job—and the allure of not having a boss is likely appealing, too. At the same time, new tools like LinkedIn have made it easier to find one-off gigs, by offering a platform for freelancers to promote their skills and snag new assignments.

On the other hand, the shift to independent work might be because there are simply few other options available right now. In the MBO Partners poll, one in seven workers said his or her move to freelance had to do with factors that were actually beyond his or her control. Read: The sputtering economy is making it more difficult for workers to secure full-time employment, hence they take on freelancing jobs as an in-the-meantime solution.

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What’s more, though many companies are trimming their budgets by cutting full-time positions, they’re filling in the staffing gaps with freelancers and temps. “Companies are less committed to commitment,” Gene Zaino, C.E.O. of MBO Partners, told the WSJ.

Still, these independent workers seem to be generally happy with their situations, with 64% of independent workers ranking their career satisfaction as between 8 and 10 (on a 10-point scale). Meanwhile, in a separate report, just 30% of Americans said they felt excited about their jobs.

  • KTorva

    I am curious how freelancers create stable finances and provide benefits for themselves in the process.

  • GailS

    Many of these freelancers are misclassified employees. A misclassified employee is an independent contractor who works for a company as a consultant, either incorporated or not, gets paid hourly, has a supervisor, and does the same work as a regular employee but does not receive the perks and benefits and certainly not credit for work done. There are IRS, DOL and EEOC rules that govern employee classification but many companies, even large corporations ignore the rules hoping they do not get caught or sued. They risk this because the cost savings are huge. It has been estimated that 30% of workers are misclassified. These workers do not get benefits, may not get even minimum wage, and certainly do not enjoy the freedom that the word “freelance” implies. They also must pay both employee and employer taxes. Misclassified employees have no safety net. There is no unemployment or worker’s comp insurance paid for them. And because their employers do not consider them employees, they do not have claims under FLSA or Title VII or equal pay. I have experience with all aspects of employment. The worse is the the misclassified employee situation. You mention MBO Partners in your article. They have a program for misclassified employees which just makes matters worse for the unsuspecting “freelancer.”

    • CrankyFranky

      yep – in my country they’re called ‘independent contractors’ or ‘agents’ – same story – companies risking penalties by deliberately misclassifying employees (working for, controlled by and deriving income from a single company) to reduce their largest cost component – wages

  • Ally

    Don’t forget those of us who are absolutely wrung out after doing the 40 hour (and much more) work week for years. For me, I am turning to freelance because I’m exhausted, and I need to be able to get more sleep on my own schedule.

  • http://www.justinthedesigner.com/ Justin The Designer

    we have a new Freelance Group on linkedin if you would like to join: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Freelance-Lifestyle-6607071