A recent survey by a company called “Braintrust” was reported on by Staffing Industry Analysts SIA in the Daily News section of their website on July 30, 2021.
The two significant findings were that 85% of “knowledge workers” i.e., those working almost exclusively with digital content, were open to becoming freelancers and the reasons they cited were the ability to work from anywhere, being their own boss, and working on jobs of more interest to them.
(One significant yet little noted benefit of “working from anywhere”, as in the case of knowledge workers, is simply the tremendous savings in time and auto expense in the daily commute. The average daily commute in the U.S. is about one-half hour each direction so one hour per day for 235 annual workdays. This time savings is equal to 29.4 eight-hour workdays every year! There is also the savings in fuel, vehicle maintenance, wear and tear etc. and the implications for aiding climate change can be significant)
Another finding of the survey was also interesting in that only 4% of the respondents cited benefits such as health insurance and 401K programs as a reason to prefer full time employment.
This finding is not only interesting but surprising. Yet, it also follows a distinct trend like the Uber and Lyft drivers in California who rejected a new state law in 2019 (Assembly Bill 5) which gave them the protection of state labor law requirements(minimum wage, unemployment insurance, etc.) by defining them as “employees” rather than “independent contractors”.
Instead of appreciating AB5, the drivers strongly objected and supported the almost immediatelyfollowing California Ballot Proposition 22 which exempted them from AB5 and allowed them to keep their “independent contractor” status without the benefits of government protections. This level of independence is new and growing especially among younger workers.
Speaking of Uber and Lyft drivers, who are not“knowledge workers”but still are digitally enabled freelancers are among a growing cadre of workers who seem to prefer this newer work form. The freelancing cloud-based platforms like Uber, Lyft, Angie’s List, GrubHub, Care.com, Airbnb, and many others have been expanding for several years. (See list here)
We can also see this desire for more freedom and independence in the growth of small businesses in the last 5 years which exceeded 7%+ and brought the total of US small businesses in the U.S. to 31.7 million.
This increasing attraction to freelancing, with its perceived greater opportunity for more freedom, independence, flexibility,etc.,may be more than just a freely chosen vocational direction.For several years the idea (and the reality) of a single career with one company until retirement has been declining significantly.
One major reason, no doubt, is the devastating and ruinous effect of “offshoring”. “Offshoring” has been explored by many including this article that goes back to 2015: “Where America’s Jobs Went” which carries the subtitle “In a globalized economy, American corporations are rapidly shifting their workforce abroad.
Certainly, the purported benefits of globalization that were touted for many years simply did not materialize for millions of American workers and is one of the root causes for our current political divisions.
One of the effects of this is that younger workers especially, no longer trust placing their job security in the hands of corporations who have laid off thousands of loyal workers. This lack of historically expected loyalty is causing employees to look to themselves for their basic livelihood.
On this subject see the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School’s interview with Rick Wartzman on the subject of his 2017 book: “The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America”
(Note: Automation and AI in general are also significant causes of job loss and has been documented (charted data) with further losses forecast by Forbes in this 2020 article: “U.S. lost 60 million jobs- now robots, tech, and Artificial Intelligence will take millions more”)
Although the final word is far from being written on this new freelancing trend,a few things can be said:
- Although technology has been responsible for job losses, it has also greatly aided workers to find and secure thousands of freelancing jobs via sophisticated staffing software and cloud-based digital platforms.
- Workers, and especially younger ones, generally like the idea of freelancing and the real benefits it can deliver like greater freedom by working from anywhere, being their own boss, saving hundreds of hours and expenses of commuting, having lots of job choices so they can easier choose jobs that interest them.
- It is too early to tell whether freelancing can consistently deliver the incomes and benefits families need to not only survive but to live decently with good housing, health care, recreational and educational opportunities.
- We will certainly need our government and public service foundations to make the critical studies and constantly monitor how this new world of work is actually working for American workers. If corrections need to be made, they must be made in a timely manner before we get into another crisis much like the one we are in now.
- No doubt, the world of work is changing, and globalization is here to stay.But if it looks like “freelancing” is going to simply be another “race to the bottom” via online global competition with low wage countries,we may be going down a road where we may lose our only hope, our young people.If this is allowed to happen (again)then our entire country may fail, and with our failure, the entire world will lose a beautiful and critically important promise, i.e. that of America itself.