Freelancing Income Nears $1 Trillion Nationwide

Freelance workforce is increasingly made up of skilled, long-term workers
A freelancers works from her home office.

The perception that freelancers are temporary workers cobbling together income between jobs may be sorely outdated, a new survey suggests.

Freelancers across the country collectively earn nearly $1 trillion per year, according to “Freelancing in America: 2019,” a study conducted by remote work platform Upwork and the trade association Freelancers Union. To put that number in perspective, study researchers noted that freelancers contribute more to the economy than the entire construction or transportation sectors.

The annual study, in its sixth year, sought to shed light on who freelances, why they freelance and how much they make doing so. To glean data, researchers surveyed 6,001 working adults with 2,117 identifying as freelancers and 3,884 describing themselves as non-freelancers.

Approximately 57 million Americans freelanced at some point in the past year, representing 35% of the nation’s workforce, the study found.

The most common type of freelance work falls under the umbrella of skilled services, with 45% of respondents performing such specialized tasks as programming, marketing and business consulting. Freelancers who do skilled services earn a median rate of $28 per hour, which is a higher hourly rate than 70% of workers in the country.

In fact, the median rate for all freelancers is $20 per hour, which is higher than the $18.80 median wage for the country as a whole.

Meanwhile, 30% of respondents performed unskilled services, such as driving for Uber or performing personal tasks. Another 26% freelanced by selling goods via platforms such as eBay or Airbnb.

Many respondents are in the freelancing game for the long haul. And for the first time since the study was launched, the same percentage of freelancers (50%) viewed freelancing as a long-term career choice as those who saw it as a temporary source of income. The percentage of workers who freelance full time is also growing, increasing from 17% in 2014 to 28% this year.

There seems to be a generational component to the increasing prevalence of freelancing, as the younger you are, the more likely you are to embrace freelancing as a way to make a living. Among survey respondents, Gen Z workers (between the ages of 18 and 22) were the most likely to freelance, with 53% having done so in the past year. That was followed by 40% of millennials (those between 23 and 38), 31% of Gen Xers (between 39 and 54), and 29% of baby boomers (55 and over).

The future for freelancing looks just as bright, as an overwhelming 91% of freelancers said they believe the best days for self-employed work are ahead of them.

Like all professional paths, a freelancing career can benefit from a strategic approach. For instance, you may want to start planning for a freelancing career before you leave your 9 to 5.

It’s also important to remember that freelance careers typically don’t come with benefits such as company-sponsored 401(k) plans. As a result, you should consider other ways to save for retirement as a freelancer to ensure you have the money you need in your golden years.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.

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