At its current growth rate, the majority of the US workforce will be freelancers by 2027. Think about that for a second (or a minute): It has major ramifications for our economy, politics, culture.

This startling stat comes from “Freelancing in America: 2017” (FIA), a comprehensive new study from freelancing website Upwork and Freelancers Union, the labor group representing the independent workforce.

FIA estimates that already more than one-third of the US workforce are currently freelancing (57.3 million Americans) and contribute approximately $1.4 trillion annually to the economy — a nearly 30% jump since last year. This includes nearly half of all working Millennials, more than any other generation.

The freelance workforce grew at a rate 3x faster than the US workforce overall since 2014 — and 59% of them started freelancing just within the last 3 years.

(As you can imagine this is a major factor contributing to the explosion of coworking in recent years.)

“We are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution — a period of rapid change in work driven by increasing automation, but we have a unique opportunity to guide the future of work and freelancers will play more of a key role than people realize,” says Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork and co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Council on the Future of Gender, Education and Work.

And yet… policies, budget decisions, and economic development initiatives aren’t typically considering freelancers. A majority of them work from home, isolated. And in the exurban areas where BEAHIVE is focused, there’s a noticeable lack of services catering to them.

We need to rethink outdated approaches to economic development, which often focus on attracting large out-of-region businesses and giving them tax breaks, hoping jobs and subsequent tax revenues will follow.

Other notable findings from the report:

  • 54% of the U.S. workforce is not very confident that the work they do today is likely to exist in 20 years.
  • Freelancers update their skills more often and believe they’re better prepared for the future. 65% of full-time freelancers say they’re updating their skills as jobs evolve, versus only 45% of full-time employees.
  • Main drivers of freelancing for full-time freelancers are freedom and flexibility, with part-time freelancers driven by earning extra money as well as flexibility.
  • Freelancers increasingly think having a diversified portfolio of clients is more secure than one employer (63% agree, up 10 points since 2016) and have an average 4.5 clients per month.
  • Freelancers and non-freelancers share most of the same list of top concerns, which includes access to affordable healthcare, debt and ability to save.
  • That said, freelancers have a unique top concern — income predictability. Freelancers therefore dip into their savings more often, with 63% of full-time freelancers dipping into savings at least once per month versus only 20% of full-time non-freelancers.
  • Freelancers are seeking a voice, beyond political affiliation — 72% are open to crossing party lines if a candidate indicated that they supported freelancer interests.


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