More Than One-Third of the Workforce are Celebrating Their Independence
In 2011, MBO Partners launched survey research to take a census and the pulse of independent workers for their 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.
The new 2017 report indicates we have already surpassed that number. 41 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 now in the mainstream, representing more than one-third of the American workforce. There’s no stereotype. 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. 53 percent are male, while 47 percent are female, which is consistent with the profile of the general workforce.
In 2017, the job market has been tight with unemployment at just 4.3 percent and a record 6 million job openings. According to MBO Partners, that means independent workers are “increasingly able to compete in the War for Talent on their own terms” by leveraging the talent shortage. Businesses are increasingly willing to turn to independent professionals to meet their needs for special skills or projects, which accommodates American workers who increasingly 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 (3.2 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 $1.2 trillion of revenue for the U.S. economy, according to MBO, and 17 percent of full-time independent workers exported goods or services to customers outside the United States.
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 becoming independent knowing that businesses and consumers are welcoming these services. 64 to 70 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 24 percent 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 has added a new category of “Occasional Independents,” people working independently irregularly or sporadically but at least once a month. 12.9 million American workers are weaving these projects into their work schedules, particularly 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 40 percent of working Americans report spending time at some point in their careers as independent workers (including me). They believe that by 2022, the total number of independent workers in American will rise to nearly 48 million.
Around 28 million Americans who are not currently independent are considering a shift to independence in the next 2-3 years. Will it be you?
Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. She is a nonresident Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and an adjunct fellow with CSIS. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught International Trade for the last fourteen years as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.