The freelance workforce in the U.S. continues to expand, playing a more significant role in the economy and changing the face of the labor pool.
That’s according to the results of a new survey released today by the freelance platform Upwork. Its 2022 Freelance Forward survey identified trends in the following areas:
- 60 million Americans performed freelance work in the past 12 months, representing 39% of the U.S. workforce, an all-time high.
- Not only is this solid year-over-year growth, but it is also the highest percentage since Upwork began tracking this trend in 2014, according to the company.
Contribution To The Economy
- Freelancing remains a significant part of the U.S. labor market and economy: Freelancers contributed $1.35 trillion to the U.S. economy in annual earnings in 2022, up $50 billion from 2021.
- Perceptions of freelancing continue to shift: Nearly three-quarters of freelancers (73%) say that perceptions of freelancing as a career are becoming more positive, up from 68% in 2021.
- Freelancing continues to grow among the most educated: 26% of all U.S. freelancers hold a postgraduate degree, up from 20% in 2021.
- Gen Z and Millennials are the most likely to explore freelancing. In 2022, 43% of all Gen Z professionals and 46% of all Millennial professionals performed freelance work.
- 51% of all freelancers, or nearly 31 million professionals, provided knowledge services such as computer programming, marketing, IT, and business consulting this year.
The study was conducted by independent research firm Edelman Data & Intelligence, which surveyed 3,000 U.S. working adults over 18 online between September 21, 2022, and October 7, 2022. The study has an overall margin of error of ±1.8% at the 95% confidence level.
‘High Levels Of Satisfaction’
“Amidst news stories about worker discontent and quits, freelancers continue to show high levels of satisfaction with their work,” Margaret Lilani, vice president of talent solutions at Upwork, said via email.
“We are watching this major shift happen in the workforce where highly skilled professionals are finally questioning aspects of the old, traditional ways of work. It’s as if people are looking at freelancers, who have more flexibility and control, and asking, ‘why can’t my work be like that too?’
“At the same time, freelancers are also seeing [the] benefits of this mindset shift in the workforce. Not only do they feel more optimistic about their opportunities and earning potential, but freelancers also say that the perceptions of freelancing are more positive than ever before.”
Why Companies Should Expand Talent Strategies
“Businesses that want to remain competitive with the best talent should expand their talent strategies to include independent professionals,” Lilani observed.
“As our survey reveals, many people are seeking control and flexibility that traditional work arrangements cannot always afford. Mindsets are changing around how they want to work, and, as a result, many talented and highly skilled professionals are turning to freelancing. Businesses that don’t adopt a talent solution will miss out on a large and expanding pool of professional talent,” she warned.
The results of Upwork’s survey provide good and bad news for companies and independent contractors.
The good news for employers is that an ever-expanding freelance labor pool means companies will have a greater selection of independent contractors to choose from and work with.
Earlier this year, Upwork’s Future Workforce Report found that 69% of hiring managers anticipated hiring more workers in the next six months. At the same time, though, 60% cited difficulties finding quality talent to fill their open positions.
Plans for hiring more freelancers should be balanced against recent news that the Labor Department has proposed a rule to make it easier for independent contractors to be considered employees, which would give them access to benefits and federal labor protections. “The proposal would overturn a Trump-era move and restore Obama-era standards for determining whether workers qualify as employees or independent contractors,” the Washington Post reported.
The bad news for freelancers is that the continued growth of the freelance workforce means independent contractors could face increased competition for coveted work assignments. Making matters worse, the skills they have to offer may not always be what prospective employers are looking for.
Last January, Upwork released an analysis of their most requested positions and skills. The data was based on gross services volume on their platform from January 1 to October 31, 2021. Each skill had a minimum of 500 projects posted during that period. Compared to 2020, Upwork saw an uptick in demand for skills like web programming (43%), web design (31%) and social media marketing (25%).
Upwork’s Lilani said at the time,” We attribute these changes largely to the ever-changing priorities of businesses and the modification/maintenance required for their websites.
“In an ever-evolving remote working world, these types of professional skills are becoming increasingly important to keep pace with digital transformation,” she concluded