Are There Really 55 Million Freelancers in America?

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It is no secret that the labor force is constantly changing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the size of the civilian labor force was 159.463 million as of August 2016 in America. With unemployment at 4.9%, the labor force participation rate was 62.8% in August. What is amazing, and what may be very hard for the BLS to account for, is the number of freelancers who contribute to the economy.

A fresh report from the Freelancers Union now shows that nearly 55 million Americans are freelancing. If you tally this up against the Labor Department data it means that 35% of the work force is made up of freelancers.

The Freelancers Union has released its “Freelancing in America” report for the third year. The view is that the number of freelancers is growing and that the freelance economy has added 2 million workers since 2014. The report also shows that these independent workers are “emerging as a powerful economic and political force” and that freelancers contributed $1 trillion dollars to the economy this year.

According to Thursday’s report, the majority of freelancers are freelancing by choice. Here’s another astronomical sum in their report: 50% of freelancers were shown as saying that there is no amount of money that would get them to go take a traditional job and stop freelancing. Another point made was that most freelancers made more freelancing than they did with a full-time job within one year.

This report also showed that the full-time freelancers work less than 40 hours per week, about 36 hours on average. According to the BLS, the average workweek of all U.S. workers was 34.3 hours in August.

It is important to keep in mind that freelancing is a very broad term. It can be people with multiple sources of income, or those who are doing temporary or supplemental work. It can be Uber/Lyft drivers, bloggers, editors or professionals who have full-time work but who moonlight on the side. Then there are business owners who are also freelancers. As far as how that compares to the broader labor data, the BLS reported the following part-time data for August:

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was little changed at 6.1 million in August. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

The third “Freelancing in America” report said:

This is big. The economy increasingly depends on freelance labor. As such, freelancers have become a powerful political constituency – and they demand to be heard.

85% of freelancers plan to vote in the upcoming 2016 presidential election and 68% of those voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who represent freelancer interests. The vast majority of freelancers have heard little to nothing about freelance issue during the campaigns. With these findings, candidates and policy makers would do well to start paying attention to the concerns of the independent workforce: freelance issues are national economic issues.

Being a freelancer can be liberating and bring a lot of freedom and flexibility. It can also come with pitfalls. There are issues regarding taxes. There can be issues over what amount is paid, and there can be issues over actually getting paid by companies or individuals who hire freelancers. There are also issues about insurance and retirement that can come into play.

There is a personal view here, which you are welcome to consider or ignore. Having used freelancers for years, and having freelanced in prior years, it was more than surprising to see that there are close to 55 million people who are considered freelancers in America.