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On Their Own: Freelance Work Continues to Rise

On Their Own: Freelance Work Continues to Rise
Credit: GaudiLab/Shutterstock

Freelancing is no longer just reserved for workers who can't find a traditional job, new research finds.

Sixty percent of full-time freelancers have chosen this work style, up 7 percentage points from a year ago, according to a study by Upwork and the Freelancers Union.

Overall, more than 1 in 3 U.S. workers – 53.7 million – are now freelancing. That's an increase of 700,000 workers from 2014.

"People are increasingly building flexible careers on their own terms, based on their passions, desired lifestyle and access to a much broader pool of opportunities than ever before in history,"Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, said in a statement."While we are still relatively early in the rise of the freelance workforce, there’s no doubt its growth will continue."

The move from working for someone else to working on their own is paying off. The research revealed that 60 percent offreelancers who left traditional jobs now make more money. Of those who earn more, nearly 80 percent said they saw a boost in their income in less than a year of starting as a freelancer.

Even if they had the chance to make more money in a traditional job, 50 percent of the freelancers surveyed said they would continue working independently. The research shows that nearly 20 percent of freelancers would want at least $20,000 more a year to return to work for someone else. [Want to Be a Full-Time Freelancer? What You Need to Know ]

"Professionals are not only turning away from traditional employment, once they do most have no desire to go back," Kasriel

Flexibility is the key driver in the rise of freelance workers. Having flexibility in the days and hours they work, to option work from the location of their choice, having a schedule that allows them to pursue personal interests and being able to spend more time with family and friends are among the top reasons those surveyed said they chose to become freelancers.

"Freelancers are pioneering a new approach to work and life – one that prioritizes family, friends and life experiences over the 9-5 rat race," said Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of the Freelancers Union. "This study shows that the flexibility and opportunity associated with freelancing is increasingly appealing and that is why we've seen such dramatic growth in the number of people choosing to freelance."

Most freelancers believe their prospects for working independently will only get better in the coming years. More than 80 percent of those surveyed think the best days are ahead for freelancing, up from 77 percent last year. 

Part of that optimism can be attributed to an increased workload for many freelancers. More than one-third of the freelancers surveyed said the demand for their services has increased since 2014.

Technology is helping to drive that increased demand. More than half of those surveyed found a project online in 2015, up from 42 percent a year ago. In addition to using the Internet to find work, friends, family and professional contacts are the other outlets most freelancers turn to for work opportunities.

The study was based on surveys of 7,107 U.S. working adults over age 18. Of those, 2,429 were freelancers and 4,678 were non-freelancers.

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.