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In the June Jobs Report, Freelancers Remain an Invisible Class

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
creativity, featured, freelancing

freelance jobs report

The Bureau of Labor Statistics gave Americans a reason to celebrate going into the holiday weekend on Thursday, when they released a strong jobs report for the month of June, as well as adjusted numbers for both April and May, which seem to demonstrate a positive trend toward economic recovery. Fewer people were unemployed, generally, and employment was up among key demographics like women and people of color. But for yet another month, the BLS numbers still don’t really address the trend burgeoning freelance economy.

By all accounts, both nationally and globally, freelancing and part-time small business ownership have helped creatives find a foothold in a sticky economy. The option to make money independently has certainly helped in filling the financial gaps of the 7.5 million persons employed part-time due to a lack of full-time work, or the need to stay home for financial and/or personal reasons — a number that’s up 275,000 since last month, according to the report.

Yet, that number — the number of workers who are only logged as part-time workers but may have additional income from a self-owned small or freelance business — is viewed as a blight on an otherwise positive report.

And what about the civilian labor force participation rate, which hasn’t moved in three months? Is 37.2 % of the population really not participating in the workforce at all, or have they found other ways to make money on the side, which isn’t reported, or doesn’t fall into the BLS’s metrics?

Then, there’s that pesky “marginally attached” number, which ranks individuals who, at one point, were collecting unemployment but have stopped applying each week for benefits, because they have not looked for work in the last four weeks, a qualification for receiving money from the government after a layoff. Are those people really not collecting unemployment because they aren’t looking for work, or did they find part-time income through freelance or gigs, which disqualifies them receiving unemployment?

Because after all, once you begin earning your own income — even if it’s just part-time money coming from an independent or creative venture, you’re no longer allowed to claim, though you may not be ranked as “part-time employed” based on the BLS numbers.

The surge of the freelance economy has been on the minds of economists for well over a year, with writers for the Financial Times, Forbes, and Business Insider all predicting the importance of this alternative method of labor and income. And yet, the BLS continues to largely ignore this growing metric. Freelancer earned 57% more in 2012 than in 2011, according to a report from Elance, and in 2013, the United States continued to be the single biggest employer of freelancers.

Just 18% of workers surveyed by Elancers have always worked as a freelancers — the rest either freelance on the side of a full-time job, began to pick up work after being downsized or laid off, or are working on their own in between full-time jobs. Jeremy Neuner, CEO and co-founder of NextSpace, predicted last year that by 2020, 40% of the American economy would be freelancers.

None this is indicated in the BLS numbers.

The monthly BLS labor statistics are important for economists and the stock market, but when it comes to creative entrepreneurs and the employers who need them, they continue to overlook important information about non-traditional emplooyment — which makes it hard to know exactly how big the impact of freelancers and creatives really is on the economy. But with the increased interest in the freelance economy, it’s safe to assume that it’s an upward trend.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.