Half Of U.S. Freelancers Wouldn’t Take A Job No Matter What

Venture-backed Upwork (formerly Elance-oDesk) and the labor organization Freelancers Union just commissioned a study by the global research firm Edelman Berland, and it’s chock-full of fascinating information about the state of freelancing in the U.S.

You can check out the whole thing – which involved more than 7,000 people and was weighted to ensure demographic representation in line with U.S. labor statistics — right here. But let’s quickly drill into some of the findings that the organizations themselves seem to find most interesting.

One in three Americans – or 34 percent of U.S. workers – is freelancing.

That equates to 53.7 million people who’ve done freelance work in the last year, which is pretty shocking. A small caveat here, though. “Freelance” in this survey means one of five things. There are just 19.3 million “traditional freelancers,” who have no employer and do work on project-by-project basis. Meanwhile, there are 13.2 million “moonlighters” who have jobs but work on freelance projects in their off hours; 14.1 million “diversified” workers with part-time jobs who also take on freelance work; 4.6 million “temporary” workers, including those employed through staffing agencies; and 2.5 million “freelance owners,” meaning people who are freelancing but also employing other freelancers.

Roughly 60 percent of freelancers who left traditional employment now earn more.

This stat had us pleasantly surprised, though even more surprising to us – unbelievable, even – was a related stat. According to the survey, 78 percent of people who quit a job with an employer in order to freelance said they were earning more freelancing within one year or less.

Why it’s hard to believe: it takes time to drum up new business as a freelancer. It’s also an expensive adjustment to make, when factoring in the health care payments, Social Security, and the other taxes that freelancers have to set aside. Indeed, when we asked Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of Freelancers Union, about this, she said the question respondents were asked “didn’t take into account the difference in costs.” The “net net,” she added, “may not be positive.”

Freelancers are optimistic, with more than one-third reporting that demand for their services increased in the past year and nearly half saying they expect their income from freelancing to rise in the coming year.

Thank you, Internets. In fact, 73 percent of respondents said that technology was making it easier to find freelance work, up from 69 percent last year.

In fact, because freelancers so prize their time flexibility (76 percent of respondents) and freedom to work from anywhere (75 percent), fully 50 percent said there’s no amount of money that would compel them to take a traditional job. Take that, Corporate America!

About 16.6 million freelancers said they now earn 10 percent of more of their income through the sharing economy. That’s up from 9 million people who said the same last year. (Yes, we’re looking at you, Airbnb.)

Of course, the survey also included some less-than-sunny numbers.

Fully 76 percent of respondents said they were concerned about health care costs. The same percentage said they were also concerned about the unpredictable nature of their income. Meanwhile, 74 percent of those surveyed said they were concerned about retirement savings.

You’d probably get a similarly high percentage of employed people answering affirmatively to concerns about health care costs and retirement savings, even though they have much more in the way of a safety net than independent contractors, who have bupkis.

Still, with more people moving in the direction of independent work, these concerns should be top of mind for lawmakers, particularly as we head into elections next year. Entrepreneurs who are trying to read the tea leaves should take note of the overarching trends, too.