Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics still doesn’t really count freelancers in their monthly statistics, plenty of other brands and companies spent a lot of time and effort in 2014 trying to figure out exactly how deep the self-employed, sole-prop, part-timing world of freelancers runs. Freelancers were found to fuel the economy and help fill gaps in businesses, while pulling down higher-than-ever rates and gaining access to more key services than ever. But why — why now, and what does it mean for next year?
“We are quickly becoming a nation of permanent freelancers and temps,” writes Quartz’s Jeremy Neuner. “The forces behind this sea-change are many: the rapid adoption of mobile technology, ubiquitous internet access, and a general sense of malaise powered by the vague yet nagging notion that we’re just not meant to work all day sitting in a cubicle.”
It’s a true statement; in addition to the perpetually-beating drum that tells creative entrepreneurs that they can live the life they want (not to mention plenty of success stories to back up those claims), freelancing is also just easier in the digital age. Working from home is a benefit that even regular employees want, but less and less do workers rely on traditional bosses for what they need.
Between new resources like the Freelancers Union, the ACA in the United States, and the ubiquity of coworking spaces around the world, it’s no surprise that more than one in three U.S. workers is doing some kind of freelance work. And the growth doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of slowing; according to a study from Inuit, the number of freelancers is predicted to increase by as much as 10% in the next five years to close to half the workforce.
Of course, there are going to be some bugs to work out. The so-called gig economy — which is also often pegged as another reason behind the rise of the freelancer in the last few years — may be beneficial for some, but can be ruthlessly regressive for others, leaving many vulnerable workers in the lurch as they compete for petty cash. To address this, companies who work with these contractors are being pressured to either start adding regular benefits and wages (essentially making it no longer a freelance job), or change some of their business models to create a more fair and lucrative opportunity for their workers.
Even in the face of financial instability and potentially uncertain futures, though, freelancers are still taking on the challenge and jumping ship, largely because it’s what they want to do. The American Dream itself appears to be shifting from a career of high earnings to a career of high satisfaction, as workers — particularly Millennials — begin seeking out jobs that reward their creativity as much or more than their 401k. And that is absolutely a trend that you can expect to see in the new year.