Is There a Future Freelance? What You Need to Know

The Future is Freelance

Freelancing in America 2017 is a survey commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union and is considered “the most comprehensive study of the independent workforce.” The survey results are in heavy rotation this fall (think Inc, Forbes, Fast Company) with the declaration that “the majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelance (by 2027).” So what exactly does this mean?

The Survey


Upwork and Freelancers Union hired Edelman Intelligence, an independent research firm, to conduct the survey. These were the objectives:

  1. Assess change: AI’s [artificial intelligence’s] impact, freelancing and the future of work
  2. Quantify freelancing: Size the workforce and predict a coming freelancer majority
  3. Examine why: Help reveal what’s causing more people to choose to freelance
  4. Share considerations: Better understand freelancers’ financials, economic impact and concerns.

The first year this survey was executed was in 2014. This is the fourth year that the survey was conducted. The survey captured responses from “6,000 U.S. adults [18+] who have done paid work in the past 12 months.” Freelancers and non-freelancers were surveyed.

Who’s Freelancing and Why?

The statistics below were captured in response to how the U.S. workforce surveyed views the impact of Artificial Intelligence:

54% of the U.S. workforce is not very confident that the work they do today is likely to exist in 20 years (freelancers and non-freelancers share this belief)

49% of full-time freelancers indicate that their work has already been affected by AI and robotics, versus only 18% of full-time non-freelancers.

65% of full-time freelancers say they’re updating their skills as jobs evolve, versus only 45% of full-time Non-Freelancers.

The survey captured the following statistics on the size of the freelance workforce and anticipated growth:

57.3 million people freelanced this year

The freelance workforce grew at a rate 3x faster than the U.S. workforce overall since 2014

Almost half of working Millennials (47%) freelance, more than any other generation

At it’s current growth rate, the majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers by 2017… The growth of the freelance workforce is accelerating, more than tripling the growth of the overall workforce

According to the survey, “Perceptions of freelancing as a career are becoming more positive.” And not a surprise, the main drivers towards freelancing full-time is “freedom and flexibility.”  63% of freelancers prefer the option of having a “diversified portfolio of clients…more secure than one employer). On the flip side, freelancer’s “top concern [is] income predictability.

Another notable statistic is when people started freelancing, “59% of freelancers started freelancing within the last 3 years.” The largest age group driving the freelance workforce is between 18-34 years of age.

According to the survey:

50% of freelancers say “There is no amount of money where I would definitely take a traditional job”

Freelance earnings increased almost 30% since last year to reach an estimated $1.4 trillion

36% of freelancers are earning $75,000 or more annually

62% of freelancers say they earn 62% more than when they had an employer

60% of freelancers prefer Congress keep the Affordable Care Act

35% of freelancers are diversified workers – People with multiple sources of income from a mix of traditional employers and freelance work. For example, someone who wworks part-time at a start-up, managed an AirBnB and does freelance coding.

Freelancers diversity is in line with the general populate of U.S. workers:
Freelancers: 66% White, 15% Latino, 11% African or African Descent, 5% Asian-American/Asian, 3% All others
U.S. Workers Overall: 68% White, 14% Latino, 10% African or African descent, 5% Asian-American/Asian, 3% All others


As the survey results make the rounds at Inc, Fast Company, and Forbes, other industry publications that are not you’re typical techies are weighing in. According to Insurance Journal, a “global claims management firm Crawford & Co. acquired a majority interest in WeGoLook, an online and mobile inspection firm that calls itself the “Uber of inspections.” Insurance brokers are going digital and hiring independent contractors and small businesses, one called Bunker and the other called Next’s by Insurtech. Both are startups going through Series funding.

What are your thoughts on this epic growth within the freelancer workforce? It’s not surprising to see the accelerated move away from the traditional workforce.