The trend of Americans choosing to work for themselves doesn't appear to be dying down anytime soon, new research finds.
The study from MBO Partners revealed that the total number of self-employed U.S. workers rose to 40.9 million in 2017, up 2.8 percent from last year. Independent workers now represent 31 percent of the U.S. workforce.
The research shows that, at one time or another in their career, 40 percent of all U.S. workers have worked independently. The percentage is predicted to continue climbing in the coming year. The study's authors predicted that within the next five years, half of the U.S. workforce will have experienced working independently.
Gene Zaino, CEO of MBO Partners, said the research shows definitively that independent work is the way of the future.
"Even against a strong economy, independents, particularly in skilled labor markets, choose this path over traditional employment," Zaino said in a statement. "Sixty-five percent of all independents say that independent work was their choice entirely, and this number will continue to rise as organizations compete in a war for top talent in highly competitive fields such as engineering and computer science."
The research shows that the number of people working independently on top of a traditional full-time job is what's driving the growth in the independent workforce. There are currently 12.9 million side-giggers, those who work occasionally as independents and at least once per month, up from 10.5 million in 2016. [Curious about the gig economy? Here is how it is impacting the U.S. workforce]
The number of full-time independent workers, 16.2 million, and part-time independents, 11.8 million, both dropped slightly from a year ago.
While being self-employed was once something employees were forced into when they couldn't find traditional work, now many independent workers are finding it to be more fiscally rewarding. The research found that 3.2 million full-time independents make more than $100,000 annually, up 4.9 percent from 2016 and an annualized increase of more than 3 percent each year since 2011.
Additionally, 36 percent of independent workers earn more money working on their own than they did when they worked in traditional jobs.
Besides the financial gains some are seeing, not having to report to anyone is a top reason why many professionals are choosing to become self-employed. The study found that three-quarters of independent workers said they choose this line of work so they can be their own boss, while 64 percent said they did so because they don't like answering to a boss. In addition, 74 percent said they wanted to become an independent worker because of the flexibility it affords.
"The motivations for working independently are as much psychological and emotional as they are financial," the study's authors wrote.
Working on their own isn't without its difficulties. The research discovered that 50 percent of those who are self-employed said not having enough predictable income is the largest challenge they face, while 33 percent said not being able to plan for their retirement is the biggest issue. Additionally, 32 percent said they worry about being able to find their next job, and 31 percent think a lack of job security is the greatest challenge to working on their own.
Despite the difficulties that come from working independently, many self-employed workers plan to continue down this path. The study found that just 10 percent of full-time independent workers plan to seek a traditional job in the coming year.
"Independents want to continue to pursue the type of work they choose and love," the study's authors wrote. "Year in and year out, most independents say they plan to continue to stay the course as an independent or even build a bigger business."
In the end, the researchers say, the structure of work in America is changing and the barriers between working a full-time job and working independently are eroding.
"For an increasing number of Americans, it’s not simply a matter of having a payroll job or working independently; many do both, or are comfortable with switching as circumstances dictate," the study's authors wrote. "As companies continue to place a premium on skills, flexibility, and performance, confident independents will find that they have more options."
The study was based on surveys of 3,008 U.S. residents over the age of 21. The results were used to size the independent workforce and profile motivations among independent and traditional workers.