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article imageOp-Ed: 20% of Americans now freelance! Now predict the future

By Paul Wallis     Nov 2, 2018 in Business
Washington - Freelancing comes in many forms. Some freelance and work, some live by freelancing, others do a mix of types of work. 56.7 million people now freelance in some form in the United States, and that’s no trivial number.
The latest study comes from Upwork and the Freelancers Union, and the figures are pretty unambiguous. There’s been a steady increase in freelancing, and that number is up 3.7 million in the last 5 years. Add to this the fact that freelance job ads are booming.
This is all well and good, but – If 20% of the entire population freelance, what’s the real jobs environment, and what will the future of jobs look like? The logic is this:
1. To freelance, you need the time and space to do it.
2. Freelancing can be tough, in income terms. Does this mean 20% of Americans need to freelance?
3. Demand for freelance work must be very high to sustain these numbers. Freelancers are hired because they don’t incur the costs of fulltime employees, too, so this is clearly some sort of cost management.
4. Technology is making freelancing a lot easier for freelancers and their contracts. So is this the better way to get a job?
5. US unemployment is way down, but in the light of this gigantic number of freelancers, is the market being misread, or underestimated in size? Could well be, because 56.7 million people is a big number, compared to the 2018 estimate of 160 million in the US workforce, which has itself put on an extra million this year.
This is a very strange number indeed, in the often neurotic US labour market. How, exactly, do you have a third of the workforce freelancing? My guess is that reality, that tactless thing, may be playing a role.
I worked on US and European job market sites for years, as a contributor and forum moderator. The environment is pure Adam Smith; how people earn a living has nothing to do with economic theories. The easy way is usually the best way, particularly in the sometimes psychotic US job environment.
Freelancing, therefore, is likely to be a mix of expedience, personal preferences, and better options for sustaining income. So 56.7 million Americans, for whatever mix of reasons, are taking this approach.
The future? Guess.
From the look of the numbers, I’d say the future isn’t waiting for a formal invitation to start doing business. It’s moving in, and it’s bringing with it a practical option for employees and employers. It’s anyone’s guess when the old jobs model drops dead, but it will, and it’s likely to be sooner rather than later.
The fact is that the old jobs/office/career model is long since obsolete. It’s expensive, it’s ridiculously time consuming in commuting alone, and it’s hardly efficient in any sense of the word. Do you spend 2-4 hours commuting? How much do you get paid per hour? That’s what it’s costing you, unless you have your costs really well organized. It’s that inefficient, and very wasteful of time. It’s no coincidence people do a lot of work in their cars.
Think about it:
• No admin/office jobs, all outsourced or automated
• No factory jobs, all automated.
• Fewer service jobs, highly automated.
• Professional roles shrinking as tech takes over.
The big picture is of a vanishing employment market. Sure, people will move in to new fields, but how many of them won’t have that option? Think these people might freelance? Bingo. That’s what these numbers mean.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about freelance job statistics, us labor market, Adam smith, future employment, future job market
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