Viva les independents! Survey shows ranks of independent workers continues to grow

In 1989, when I started freelancing, my new career direction made me a rarity among my friends, many of whom, I am sure, felt I was foolish to quit my 9-to-five job to go it alone. By 1999, I was much less alone asa growing number of friends chose self-employment. Flash forward 14 more years and it turns out we’re part of a major shift in the U.S. workforce. This is according to the “2013 State of Independence in America,” the third annual study on independent workers in the U.S. done by MBO Partners, a company that provides services to support people in the independent contracting and consulting sector.

According to this year’s survey, 17.7 million Americans self-identifying themselves as freelancers, consultants, temps, solopreneurs, microbusiness owners (with no more than three employees in this study), and those working on-call without schedule/income guarantees. Based on the growth they’ve seen in their three annual surveys, MBO Parnters projects that there will be 24 million independent workers by 2018 and that by 2020, roughly 50% of the private workforce will have spent time as independent workers at some point in their work lives. All of this represents a major reshaping of the American workforce.

Nearly $1.3 trillion in total income was generated by these independents, up a strong 20% from the 2012 survey. Also, independents boosted the economy by spending over $150 billion on non-payroll/contractor expenses. And they generated jobs by hiring other independents; this added up to $96 billion, or the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time workers hired via contract hiring.

I encourage you to read the study yourself, because I think you may find it encouraging to know you’re part of a major shift in how Americans work. Sometimes when you’re self-employed, it can feel awfully lonely out here. This study shows that we’re not alone and that others are walking the same career path and doing so with great satisfaction and self-fulfillment.

Other findings

Here are other findings I found interesting:

• Independent workers are roughly equally divided between men and women and range in age from 21 up to people still working in their 80s. (You had to work at least 15 hours a week independently to be included in the survey.) Every geographic area of the country has independent workers and they are spread out among urban, suburban and rural areas.

Independent workers’ satisfaction is strong, with 64% saying they are highly satisfied with their work style.

• The vast majority plans to continue as independent workers, with 77% saying they will either continue as solopreneurs (63%) or build a larger business (14%). This is up  slightly from last year (76%).

• Independents earn income both globally and locally: $43 billion came from overseas while a robust $700 billion came from their metro areas. Nearly 10 million households receive at least half of their income from independently earned income.

• One in seven independents plan to build a bigger business. Close to 2.5 million independent workers plan to launch larger businesses.

• Challenges faced by independent workers in 2013 presented less of a burden than in the past. As this work style becomes more mainstream, independents are finding more tools and solutions to overcome challenges they face as independents. Concerns over retirement, project, pipelines, benefits, self-marketing and job security all fell slightly from the base year of 2011.

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