The impact of the pandemic on the US job market is not only negative. On the contrary, many job opportunities that are usually overlooked appeared during the isolation period, especially freelancers. A study published by Upwork showed that during the pandemic, more than one-third of the US labor force was freelance, contributing US$1.2 trillion to the US economy. It still constitutes an important proportion of the US economy and is an important part in adapting to economic difficulties.
Since 2019, the proportion of freelancers in the US has increased by 22%. The influx of young and highly skilled professionals has made freelancers a flexible alternative to traditional employment. Upwork’s seventh annual research report “Freelance Outlook” conducted from June 15 to July 7 surveyed more than 6,000 American laborers over the age of 18 and found that 59 million Americans were employed in the past 12 months. Freelancing, which accounts for 36% of the US labor force, has increased by 2 million since 2019.
Due to the substantial layoffs of many companies, many employees are facing a rapid labor transfer in a very short period of time. Both freelancers and companies must create a different environment to adapt to rapidly changing business needs. Compared with traditional professions, the scope of free professions is very wide. According to the Upwork report, a “freelancer” is defined as a person who sells things online during a year, delivers groceries several times a month, or is a full-time programmer or accountant. Because of this diversity of labor, the overall impact of the pandemic on freelancing cannot be single. Conversely, when new opportunities and demand for freelancers increase, it also reduces the demand for another freelancer.
Since the outbreak of covid-19, a considerable part of the labor force started freelancing for the first time in 2020. Generally, about 10% of freelancers started freelancing sometime in the past six months. However, in the June-July 2020 survey, 34% started after the pandemic swept across the US in early March.
Bride Reynolds, a career coach for freelance job search site FlexJobs, analyzed that considering the current situation, it was not surprising to see a large number of freelance recruitment that could be completed remotely. Although the pandemic has caused a sharp increase in overall unemployment, we could use the last economic downturn as a historical reference point for the potential impact on freelancers. During the last economic downturn, the number of remote freelance jobs actually increased, while office jobs decreased, mainly because this type of job provides companies with more economical options.
He believed that remote work has just increased the society’s demand for freelancers. When the current economic situation is uncertain, companies often cannot hire full-time or part-time employees, so they will turn to freelancers. Freelancers can allow the company to meet the needs of temporary or specific projects without having to bear the extra costs of long-term employees, such as benefits and office equipment. Therefore, freelancers can usually demand higher hourly wages or project fees. In general, this approach helps when the company’s operating budget may be severely affected and future revenue is still uncertain.
From previous data, computer industry, finance/accounting, human resource management, editors, and office clerks are the easiest freelancers to be hired. Even in this extraordinary period, they are also solid industries that job seekers can consider. In terms of personnel composition, freelancers aged 18-22 account for 50% of the total population, and millennials aged 23-28 account for 44%. This can indicate that the younger generation accepts changes faster and has a higher diversity of occupations. 45% of freelancers with a university degree or above constitute the main force, those with a university or vocational degree accounting for 32% year-on-year while 43% live in cities, and 41% live in suburbs.
However, not all occupations are conducive to freelancing. Despite the overall increase in the number of freelancers, the isolation policy has affected all areas of the economy. Therefore, 10% of the American labor force has stopped freelancing. These freelancers usually work in occupations that are most affected by social distance, and the working environment is also non-remote. This data indicates that many temporary freelancers have suspended their work, and many full-time freelancers have started working for the first time. This is consistent with the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which shows that the number of self-employed entrepreneurs is on the rise, and the proportion of many jobs in employment is declining.
Contrary to previous impressions, freelancers have not lost their income compared with full-time employees. According to this report, among those who quit their full-time job for freelance work, 75% said that their income was the same as or even higher than that of traditional employers. Among those who have freelance jobs, their average annual income has increased by 22%, and this year they have contributed $1.2 trillion to the US economy.
Migz Rieta, a freelance photographer in the US, said that freelancers were their own choice without visa restrictions, and it did not mean that they earned worse than full-time photographers. On the contrary, he could have multiple time to manage his hobbies and work, and his income was steadily increasing before the pandemic. Even during the pandemic, similar groups of freelancers would introduce businesses to each other and tide over difficulties. He believed that good communication and presentation skills were very important, for good network resources and personal work websites could also support his own source of income in the long run. And because of the need to stand out from the competition, freelancers also needed to constantly learn new skills, such as marketing, programming, and sales.
In order to adapt to the changes and uncertainty of the covid-19 pandemic, many professionals have joined the ranks of freelancers for the first time. At the same time, companies have become more flexible in hiring human resources, which has brought new demands for independent professionals. During the crisis, the dynamic changes in the labor force proved the value that freelance provides to enterprises and employees. Independent professionals are benefiting from increased income diversification, time flexibility and work efficiency. Two-thirds of non-freelancers said that in the future they would consider being a freelancer as a career option to take care of family members.