Freelancing in America: 2016

The Freelancers Union has published their annual review of the state of Freelancing in the US.

The Freelancers Union is an interesting group, espousing “the new mutualisim”, and reinventing the labor union for the gig economy.

As I have put it, if you want to talk about “the future of work” you have to talk about the future of workers.

The days of the traditional nine-to-five job are long gone. Freelancing is here to stay.” (p. 2)

As advocates for Freelancer workers, the Union hopes oto improve the lives of millions fo workers, and, this year, they suggest the potential political power of freelancers.

As in past years, they report growth in the number of “freelancers”, though their figure of 55 million shows growth of only about 1 million per year, which is roughly the same rate growth of the work force itself.

I put quotes around the word “freelancers” because, as in last year’s report, they count moonlighters and “diversified” workers as freelancers, even though they have conventional employment.  In fact, over half of their 55 million freelance workers are in these categories.

There is nothing wrong with these folks, but there is a gigantic difference between having a part time freelance gig, supplemented by conventional work, and being a full time, 100% gig worker. And much of what the Freelance Union does and advocates for is really about the 20 million fully freelance workers, not so much for the 30 million part timers counted in their numbers. (And that’s a sixth of the workforce, not one third, but who’s counting.)

Nevertheless, 20 million or 50 million, there are a lot of workers who are “operating outside the traditional 40-hour workweek”

Until recently it may have seemed that freelancers worked in the margins of the economy, but as Freelancing in America 2016 shows, that is hardly the case. Freelancers make up a huge part of the U.S. economy. “ (p. 7)

The main points of the survey is to report that these workers mostly choose to work independently, are happy in their freelancing, and make as much or more money than previous employment. (The latter statistic could be reflecting the low pay for many types of work, especially in the last decade.) In other words, freelancing is not only more common, it is good for workers.

But these independent workers need clout, and that is where the Freelancers Union comes in. However happy freelancers may be, they still worry about money and life.

Income instability and related issues are of primary concern to freelancers. Freelancers ranked their top concerns as debt, dif culty nding work, and access to affordable healthcare. Full-time freelancers indicated they are most concerned about being paid a fair rate and unpredictable income. “ (p. 7)

The FU is concerned with fair pay, and fair practices (i.e., actually paying promptly for freelance work). The FU also offers insurance, other benefits, and networking for Freelancers, at least in large cities. These are things that conventional workplaces and conventional labor unions offer, and the FU is pioneering how to do them in the new “jobless” economy.

The Freelancers Union is doing important and vital work, which I support 100%. So don’t be fooled by this puffy little report –the Freelancers union is the real deal.

Disclosure: I have been a member of the FU for several years.

  1. Freelancers Union, Freelancing in America: 2016. Freelancers Unoin and Upwork, New York, 2016.


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