2022 Sees Record Number of U.S. Freelancers

As they struggle to fill open positions, employers may be frustrated to learn that the number of American freelancers has risen to an all-time high of 60 million people, according to Upwork. In other words, while it’s become increasingly difficult to fill traditional roles, there are more people willing to offer work on a temporary, contract basis than ever before—and more people willing to take on those temporary jobs.

Those 60 million freelancers accounted for $1.35 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2022—up $50 billion from 2021. As a percentage of the workforce, freelancers grew by 3% to account for 39% of the U.S. workforce.

Freelancing at All Levels . . .

“Freelancing continues to gain popularity among skilled professionals as more people evaluate their priorities and values around work,” said Margaret Lilani, VP of talent solutions at Upwork. “The 9-to-5, in-office, single employer model is not what all people want anymore. Instead, freelancing allows professionals to build meaningful careers with the work and clients that they choose, and many are taking advantage of this opportunity.”

. . . But Not For All Roles

While some employers and recruiters might throw up their hands in exasperation at this trend, there are opportunities for employers that have the luxury of being flexible enough to integrate freelancers into their workforces. We say “luxury” because for some jobs, freelancing simply isn’t practical. 

It may not be realistic, for example, to operate a factory with freelancers, who can set their own hours. The same goes for certain retail settings or hospitality, in which employers need to have some predictability in scheduling. Still, this doesn’t necessarily mean freelancing is impossible in these settings.

Where Freelancing Can Work Well

It’s generally easier, however, for industries and businesses that don’t require close collaboration and tight scheduling to utilize freelancers, and there are some benefits to working with freelancers instead of traditional employees. For example, while freelancers tend to command higher hourly rates, employers don’t typically offer them benefits and other perks that can be costly. 

Additionally, freelancers are a less “lumpy” labor input than traditional employees because it’s generally easier to scale their use up or down. Instead of hiring or firing a 40-hour-per-week employee, a business could use a freelancer or freelancers for a few hours 1 week, no hours the next week, and 60 hours the following week, depending on their availability.

The rise of freelancing is unlikely to reverse course anytime soon; however, that isn’t necessarily a catastrophe for employers that can be flexible enough to integrate freelancers into their existing people strategy.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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