More Than One-Fourth of American Workers are Celebrating Their Independence
In 2011, MBO Partners launched survey research to take a census and the pulse of independent workers for what became an annual State of Independence in America Report. In their inaugural report, they predicted that there would be 40 million independent workers-full time consultants, freelance professionals, and regular “side-giggers” in the American economy by the year 2019.
It’s 2019, and MBO’s latest report indicates we have met and surpassed their original estimates. Forty-one million Americans are building businesses, taking their careers in new directions to pursue their passions, or simply supplementing their incomes through some form of independent work.
The “Solopreneur” is mainstream, representing more than one-fourth of the American workforce. There’s no stereotype to describe them (us, I’m one of them). Independent workers are spread almost evenly across generations, gender, and geographies from cities to suburbs to small towns and rural America.
Independents Are Winning in the War for Talent
Independents include Millennials who launch independent businesses to build professional skills, Gen-Xers spending more time with their children while continuing to flex their professional muscles, and Baby Boomers who, after years serving the corporation, feel ripe for the role of CEO. They also include older professionals adding to retirement income or “staying in the game” part time. Fifty-four percent are male and 46 percent are female, which is consistent with the profile of the general workforce.
Independent work has remained a desirable career path even in the midst of the strongest job market in decades and record low unemployment. According to MBO Partners, independent workers are “increasingly able to compete in the War for Talent on their own terms” by leveraging the talent shortage.
Businesses are turning to independent professionals to meet their needs for special skills or projects, which accommodates American workers who crave greater flexibility in their schedules, autonomy over what they choose to work on, and more control over their careers. Companies like PwC and MBO Partners have even set up “talent clouds” to match in-demand work needs with top independent talent.
Risk, Reward, and Return to the U.S. Economy
The report underscores that independent workers are thriving in terms of income generation (3.14 million of them make more than $100,000 a year) and they are becoming significant contributors to economic dynamism through their business expenditures and hiring practices. Independents frequently hire other independents to collaborate and combine skills in fulfillment of larger and more varied contracts.
Over the past year, independent workers generated roughly $1.28 trillion of revenue for the U.S. economy, according to MBO. That’s not insignificant – it adds up to over six percent of U.S. GDP and, as MBO put it, is the equivalent of the entire economic output of the country of Spain. Speaking of overseas markets, 22 percent of full-time independents said they sold goods or services to customers outside the United States, double the number from just three years ago.
Mostly Happier and Healthier
Though their reasons for pursuing independent work vary, Solopreneurs tend to love what they do. They report feeling more control over their work and how they perform their jobs. They are coping with the uncertainties and in large numbers say they are committed to continue on the independent path. MBO Partners says more people are confident that businesses and consumers welcoming the services of independent workers. Sixty-nine percent of full-time independents said working on their own is even better for their health.
For the most part, Solopreneurs and Side-Giggers choose to work independently. But around seven percent of full-time independents report that factors beyond their control such as layoffs, downsizing, illness or other circumstances precipitated this approach to earning income. Another dynamic is wage stagnation in full-time jobs. Part-time independents might be side-gigging to keep up with inflation and higher costs.
Side-Gigging Your Way to Independence?
MBO Partners also tracks the “Occasional Independents,” people working independently irregularly or sporadically but at least once a month. Fifteen million American workers are weaving extra projects into their work schedules, an opportunity fueled by the ability to provide services through online platforms (such as selling products on eBay, renting real estate through AirBnb, providing IT support, writing a successful cooking blog, or designing logos). Many of these Side-Giggers are using part-time work in areas they love as a runway to eventual full-time independence.
No More Corporate Ladders
Whether independent or not, today’s workers know they must approach their careers with the agility and adaptability of an entrepreneur. Fortune magazine contributor Erica Frey once put it this way: “Rather than climb a single corporate ladder…you’re more likely to spend your career scaling a professional jungle gym, maneuvering between projects, jobs, companies, industries, and locales.”
Workers of the upcoming professional generation will change jobs every three years. According to MBO Partners, about 48 percent of working Americans report spending time at some point in their careers as independent workers (including me). MBO has upped their projections – they believe independent work is growing at 3 times the rate of overall employment. By 2024, the total number of independent workers could rise to 47.2 million Americans.
Will you be one of them?
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Editor’s Note: The statistics in this article have been updated from the original July 2017 posting to reflect the results of 2019 survey results.
Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught international trade policy and negotiations for the last fifteen years as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.