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Research: Today’s Independent Worker

According to MBO Partners (State of Independence profiling survey) the definition of an independent worker is anyone older than 21 years old that describes themselves as one of the following:

  • An independent consultant/contractor
  • Self-employed,
  • A freelance worker ,
  • A temporary worker,
  • A fixed term contract worker
  • An on-call worker
  • A small business owner with fewer than a few employees

Some of these people are sole-preneurs or just as individuals having side gigs. Most of these folks are independent workers because they:

  1. Want control over the kind of work they do
  2. Want the flexibility to determine when and where they work, and
  3. Want the autonomy to work in the way they believe best.

Other highlights:

  •  Independent workers continue overall to be satisfied with their path. Independent workers’ satisfaction remains strong, with 82% reporting that they are either highly satisfied (63%) or satisfied (19%) with their work style. Only 7% reported being dissatisfied. The vast majority plan to continue as independent workers, with 76% indicating they will either continue as solopreneurs (61%) or build a larger business (15%). All of these numbers are consistent with prior years
  • Despite the economic recovery and a much stronger traditional job market, the number of independent workers continues to grow. The number of solopreneur workers, those committed to the independent work path, rose to 17.9 million in 2014. This is up from 15.9 million — 12.5% — since our base year study in 2011. This growth, which is substantially higher than the 1.1% growth in the overall U.S. labor force during the same period, indicates a continued, structural shift towards independent work.
  • Independents make a clear and positive economic impact on the US economy. Solopreneurs generated about $1.1 trillion in total income in the past year. They also spent more than $150 billion on non-payroll/contractor expenses. These independents earn income both globally and locally: About 1 in 8 do business overseas generating roughly $38 billion in exports while a robust $710 billion came from their metro areas. A little more than 10 million U.S. households receive at least half of their income from independents.
  • Independents hire other independents. Although the vast majority of independent workers are solopreneurs and don’t have traditional employees, they don’t work alone. During the past year, 38% of solopreneurs spent a total of $92 billion hiring the equivalent of 2.2 million full-time workers via contract hiring.
  • One in seven independents plans on building a bigger business. A little more than 2.5 million solopreneurs plan to launch larger businesses. These nascent entrepreneurs will build businesses that will create additional traditional jobs and spur greater economic activity.
  • The challenges of independence felt more manageable over the past year. Independent workers are acutely aware of the risks and responsibilities they face. In particular, they feel challenged by their uncertain income stream (57%), concerns about retirement (38%) and worries about a lack of job security (34%). Yet, while navigating these challenges is a natural part of this work path, the perceived burdens and challenges of independence have slightly but consistently declined from the base year of 2011.
  • Women and men have different reasons for being independent. Men and women choose to be independent at nearly identical rates, have similar satisfaction levels and plan on staying independent at similar rates. They also have consistent views on the challenges associated with being independent. But there is one area where men and women differ: they have different reasons for being independent. Women tend to be more interested in flexibility and developing fulfilling work that fits into their lifestyle. Men tend to focus on being in control, being their own boss and maximizing their income.
  • Independents use multiple revenue streams to reduce risk. Most solopreneurs (60%) have more than one revenue generating activity, with 19% having either a full (4%) or part-time (15%) traditional job. Those with multiple revenue generating activities and jobs report doing this to have a steady source of income, which reduces their overall financial risk.
  • Part-time Side-Gigger independent workers are focused on supplementing their income. In 2014 we expanded on three years of survey research to include not only the solopreneurs who, on average, work full-time, but also “Side-Giggers”— independent workers who work regularly as independents but do so on a part-time basis alongside traditional jobs, retirement or family care activities. 12.1 million Americans fit this description and share many attributes with their 17.9 million solopreneur colleagues. But while flexibility, autonomy and control are the key reasons solopreneurs choose this path, most Side-Giggers (58%) are working as independents primarily to supplement their income. A little more than 40% also report they do what they love which may result in a more committed solo business in the future.
  • The independent workforce will continue to grow. Given the structural shifts in the economy, sustained interest in control over one’s career/personal life, and lowering hurdles to entry, the solopreneur workforce is forecast to grow to 24.5 million by 2019. When we add today’s Side-Giggers into the fold, we expect the number of active, self-realized independents to grow from 30 million today to nearly 40 million by 2019.

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