Watson said she began spotting permalancers among her students a few years ago. "The trend is simply a reflection of what's going on in many businesses," she said. The national unemployment rate slipped to 8.1 percent in August.
Gone are the days when freelance meant an occasional fringe job in between permanent positions. CUNY's Watson said many of her twenty-something students see themselves as free agents, or independent workers. They're fashioning careers outside of Fortune 500 companies. And more Americans of all professions are free agents—not just highly paid athletes. (Read more: Free Agents and How They Mange Their Money.)
According to a national survey of more than 3,000 independent professionals released last week by Elance, 47.3 percent identified themselves as millennials—those born from 1981 onward. Freelance work is becoming the primary source of income for the group, said Fabio Rosati, chief executive of Elance, an online platform that connects freelancers with businesses.
“For the younger generation, freelance has moved from something few people do, to a mainstream choice. Millennials are becoming freelancers faster,” Rosati said.
The study also found26 percent of themillennials surveyed have full-time jobs—in addition to freelance gigs. These workers want to supplement their income or are engineering a career shift, possibly to a different sector, Rosati said.
Millennials surveyed, who are freelancing, are also highly educated, with 77 percent possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher. And 27 percent have a master’s degree, according to the study.
"You have to craft your own career. It's really career management, which is part of what we teach," said CUNY's Watson. "You're an entrepreneur."
(Read more: The Role Of Fate In Your Job Search)
Not Just Millennials Freelancing
In the Elance study, 37.8 percent of the freelancers surveyed described themselves as members of Generation X, those born between 1965 and 1980. And about 14.5 percent of Baby Boomers, those born between 1940 and 1964, said they were also pursuing freelance work.
Among all the freelancers surveyed, 57 percent said their income rose in 2012, according to the survey. In addition, 19 percent said they more than doubled their freelance income during the past year.
Survey participants also forecast freelance jobs likely to experience the most growth in 2013:
1. Web programming
2. Mobile apps
3. Graphic and web design
4. Online marketing
5. Content writing
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