With the life-changing events of the last two years came many dramatic shifts in the U.S. labor market. Many people began to work remotely who have never done so before, and along with this shift came a notable surge in the freelance market!

Last year, we shared our top takeaways from Upwork’s 2020 Freelance Forward report, specifically in regards to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. labor market. Upwork is largely considered the leader in the freelance talent solutions space, and they have yet again released their annual study on the state of the U.S. independent workforce.

Whether you’re a longtime freelancer or are considering becoming one, this report is full of amazing insights into the benefits and impact of freelance work on our nation and the larger economy. Here are our top takeaways.

Freelancing Is More Than a Temporary Solution

Although many use freelancing as a temporary side gig until they find more permanent employment, 35% of all U.S. workers now identify as non-temporary freelancers. More and more individuals are discovering the freedom and flexibility of freelancing, and the majority of those provide skilled services such as IT, computer programming, and marketing, rather than “gig work.” 

In fact, 51% of workers in the U.S. with postgraduate degrees are freelancers, an increase of 8% since 2019. This can likely be attributed to the skilled workers’ desire for more career and life satisfaction. After spending so long pursuing an education in order to land a successful lifelong career, many are realizing they can find a better work-life balance in freelancing than in traditional employment. Nearly half of all freelancers say no amount of money could make them go back to a traditional job!

The Great Resignation

A trending topic in 2021 has been the Great Resignation. Millions of workers quit their jobs amidst reopenings during COVID surges, and a few more followed suit following vaccination mandates (though fewer than those who threatened to do so). As many businesses have been left short-staffed, still more workers have discovered the benefits of working for themselves. 

As Upwork noted in their report, “The pandemic offered many professionals a different perspective on their careers.” Workers returning to their jobs after a year in furlough or unemployment realized they preferred working remotely and having greater autonomy and flexibility in their career. Non-freelancers are taking note, as 56% have expressed interest in freelancing in the future.

Money vs. Lifestyle

Freelancers continue to contribute significantly to the U.S. labor market and economy, bringing in $1.3 trillion in 2021. Additionally, 62% of freelancers say they make more or the same amount of money as they would working for a traditional employer (despite having to account for their own taxes). 

Although this figure has decreased since 2020, freelancers have emphasized the desire (and oftentimes, need) for flexibility and freedom that only freelancing can provide, and this liberty in work takes high priority over the financial gains to be had. Freelancers also have a greater potential to earn more in the future, with the ability to choose and set their own rates (an important task to keep up with inflation!)

Hope for the Future

Freelancing is continuing to grow and thrive in America today, as is the positive perception of it. 9 in 10 freelancers believe the best days are ahead. With even the highly educated beginning to take note and make career shifts toward self-employment, we have to agree! 

In fact, here’s one more statistic for you: 76% of skilled full-time freelancers say, if given the choice, they would choose freelancing every time. We’re so proud to stand by you as you choose freedom and flexibility in 2022!

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