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article imageQ&A: State of Independence — changing forms of U.S. employment Special

By Tim Sandle     Jul 3, 2019 in Business
There are 41.1 million U.S. citizens who work independently. Research from MBO predicts that in the next 5 years, more than half of U.S. adults will be or have been an independent worker. What's driving this change?
Independent working is becoming a more common model for employment, and one associated with factors like the rise in digital technology that makes remote working easier and the types of contracts associated with the gig economy. MBO Partners have released a survey titled 2019 State of Independence in America Report. Several key trends emerge from the report, including people reporting that they are more financially secure through independent work to this being a preferred model of work for millennials.
To unpick the survey and to dive into workplace trends, Digital Journal spoke with Bryan T. Peña, Chief of Market Strategy, MBO Partners.
Digital Journal: How fast is independent work growing?
Bryan T. Peña: America’s economy is experiencing a fast, permanent shift toward self-employment across nearly every industry. MBO Partners’ 2019 State of Independence in America Report finds that the independent workforce is stronger and more confident than ever before.
The 41 million Americans who work as consultants, freelancers, contractors, temporary, or on-call workers—are a powerful economic force, generating $1.28 trillion of revenue for the U.S. economy last year. The proportion of Full-Time Independents who are pursuing this path by choice has risen from 66% in 2012 to 81 percent in 2019.
DJ: What is meant by independent working?
Peña: For the purposes of the State of Independence, we define independent workers as those 21 and up who pursue independent work on a regular basis. We divide these workers into three categories – those who work full-time, part-time and occasionally. The definitions of the nearly 41 million independents number found in the study are:
Full-Time Independents: People who regularly work at least 15 hours per week in an average workweek and average well over 35 hours per week in independent work.
Part- Time Independents: People who regularly work less than 15 hours per week in an average workweek in independent work with an average of 11 hours per week.
Occasional Independents: People who work occasionally as independents and at least once per month—often known as side giggers.
Much of the research focuses on the sentiments of the Full-Time Independent, specifically, those serving businesses in a professional capacity. In comparison to the typical gig economy worker, independent professionals are slightly older, have a higher income, and are better educated (83 percent have four years of college or more and nearly half have graduate degrees).
DJ: From the survey, how do independent workers feel about their financial security?
Peña: Independent work continues to be a compelling way to make a living, build valuable skills, find satisfaction, and contribute to economic security for a growing number of Americans. America is the land of opportunity, and for more than 40 million people, that opportunity means pursuing their passions and enjoying flexibility as independents.
More than half of full-time independent workers say they feel more financially secure as independents than in traditional jobs, a record high. Seven in 10 full-time independents say they plan to continue their current path.
DJ: What were the responses in relation to work-life balance?
Peña: While the survey did not specifically ask about work-life balance, we do ask a series of questions comparing independents to traditional job holders. This year, 72 percent of independents responded that flexibility is more important than making the most money, and 77 percent said that doing something they love is more important than making the most money. This is significantly higher than the traditionally employed population at 46 percent and 56 percent, respectively.
Additionally, we are seeing a growing number of independent workers choose to be Digital Nomads, meaning people with a location-independent lifestyle that allows them to travel and work anywhere with internet access. In 2019, some 4.1 million independent workers identify as Digital Nomads, while 3.2 million traditional workers identify as digital nomads.
DJ: Does independent work appeal to a particular demographic?
Peña: The independent workforce resembles the workforce at large. It skews slightly male, with 54% male and 46% female, and continues to get younger. In 2019, millennials comprised 38 percent of the Full-Time Independent workforce, up from 37% in 2018. Generation X rose from 28 percent to 29 percent and boomers fell from 35 percent to 33 percent.
The demographic mix of independents is due to change as Generation Z, those born in 2001 and after, start to enter the workforce, and Generation Xers delay retirement and instead roll into independent work.
DJ: Does independent working work for some industries over others?
Peña: Full-time Independents can be found in all professions that may require a specific skill set or level of expertise.
DJ: What technological challenges does independent work present?
Peña: Today’s independents are comfortable with technology and benefit greatly from working in an increasingly networked world. While independents may lack support and infrastructure of large companies, they are nonetheless able to tap into powerful networks that enable and abet collaboration – both at home and abroad, as well as leverage technology for tools ranging from communication to networking to productivity.
Some 61 percent of Full-Time Independents said their work depends on being digitally connected to customers, while 59% say they use technology to make themselves more competitive.
DJ: What future trends can we expect?
Peña: The 2019 State of Independence in America Report confirms that the demand for skilled independents continues to rise and we expect the numbers of high-earning independents to rise as well. With increased movement across and within organizations, a greater share of American workers will spend at least part of their careers as independents. Already, 48 percent of working Americans report spending time at some point in their careers as independent workers. By 2024, we expect that 53 percent of the workforce will have spent time as an independent worker at some point in their careers.
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