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Skilled freelancers, earning more per hour than 70% of workers in US, don't want traditional jobs

Key Points
  • There are now 57 million Americans in the freelance economy, up from 53 million in 2014.
  • Freelancers doing skilled services earn a median rate of $28 an hour, earning more per hour than 70% of workers in the overall U.S. economy. 
  • 51% of freelancers say no amount of money would entice them to take a traditional job.
Geber86 | Getty Images

There are now 57 million Americans in the freelance economy, and the majority — 51% — say no amount of money would ever entice them to take a traditional job. That's according to a study released today by Upwork and Freelancers Union. The top reasons: flexibility and the ability to work and live wherever they choose.

The 2019 Freelancing in America study, conducted by Edelman Intelligence, surveyed more than 6,000 U.S. workers over the age of 18 between June 7 and July 3. Of those, 2,117 were freelancers and 3,884 were non-freelancers.

At nearly $1 trillion, or almost 5% of U.S. GDP, freelance income contributes more to the economy than industries such as construction and transportation and is on par with the information sector. Among the study's findings: While freelancers have a median rate of $20 an hour compared to a median of $18.80 for the U.S. overall, freelancers doing skilled services earn a median rate of $28 an hour, earning more per hour than 70% of workers in the overall U.S. economy.

Since 2014, an additional 4 million workers have joined the freelance economy, which now represents 35% of the U.S. workforce. And the younger the worker, the more likely they are to freelance. According to the study, the increase is clear in generational results: 29% of baby boomer workers freelance, 31% of Gen X, 40% of millennials and 53% of Gen Z.

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With a stronger labor market, 60% of freelancers say they started freelancing by choice, up from 53% in 2014, reveals the study. And for the first time, as many view freelancing as a long-term career choice as they do a temporary way to make money. The number of those freelancing long-term increased from 18.5 million in 2014 to 28.5 million today.

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"With a strengthening labor market, we will increasingly see people work on the terms that they prefer, and for many that means freelancing," said Adam Ozimek, Upwork's chief economist. "The stronger economy provides more optionality and opportunity, and as a result, more people are seeing freelancing as a long-term choice and fewer are doing it on a temporary basis."

But Caitlin Pearce, executive director of Freelancers Union, says that although more than 1 in 3 Americans are currently freelancing, this workforce continues to face significant challenges in being able to access affordable health care and fundamental protections so they can get paid fairly and on time.

"As freelancers are 18 percentage points more politically active than the general population, policymakers are advised to listen to their voices ahead of next year's presidential election," she says.

The stronger economy provides more optionality and opportunity, and as a result, more people are seeing freelancing as a long-term choice and fewer are doing it on a temporary basis."
Adam Ozimek
Upwork's chief economist

Here are some of the other key findings of the study.

Freelancing is becoming more of a long-term career choice. For the first time, as many freelancers said they view this way of working as a long-term career choice as they do a temporary way to make money. In addition, the share of those who freelance full-time increased from 17% in 2014 to 28% this year.

Freelancers are most likely to be skilled professionals. Skilled services are the most common type of freelance work, with 45% of freelancers providing skills such as programming, marketing, IT and business consulting.

The freelance job market has changed in the past three years. Among those who have seen change: 77% say technology has made it easier to find freelance work; 71% say perceptions of freelancing as a career are becoming more positive; 64% say that professionals who are the top in their industry are increasingly choosing to work independently.

Freelancing enables opportunities for those who otherwise might not be able to work. Forty-six percent of freelancers agree freelancing gives them the flexibility they need because they're unable to work for a traditional employer due to personal circumstances.

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The future of work won't be about college degrees, it will be about job skills

Stephane Kasriel, Upwork CEO
Key Points
  • According to the survey Freelancing in America 2018, released Wednesday, 93 percent of freelancers with a four-year college degree say skills training was useful versus only 79 percent who say their college education was useful to the work they do now.
  • Sixty-five percent of children entering primary school will end up in jobs that don't yet exist, reveals the World Economic Forum.
  • The result is a proliferation of new, nontraditional education options.