The Rise of the Freelance Class: A New Constituency of Workers Building a Social Safety Net

Citation:

Horowitz, Sara, Stephanie Buchanan, Monica Alexandris, Michel Anteby, Naomi Rothman, Stefanie Syman, and Leyla Vural. 2005. “The Rise of the Freelance Class: A New Constituency of Workers Building a Social Safety Net.” Brooklyn, NY: Working Today. Copy at https://j.mp/3e9G1cv

Abstract:

This spring the Freelancers Union conducted an online survey to find out who freelancers are, how they work and how they are faring.1 With more than 2,800 participants in the New York metropolitan area, this survey is one of the first efforts to get a comprehensive picture of New York’s independent workers. Four key findings emerged from the results:

1 - Freelancers are highly educated and participate in key sectors of the city’s economy as workers and as potential consumers.
• 85% of New York’s freelancer respondents have at least a college degree.
• The highest concentration work in the city’s key industries: advertising,
publishing, film and television, technology and the arts.
• Their median income is $50,000, 20% higher than the city’s overall median.

2 - Freelancers are fleeing corporate America.
• More than 60% cited some form of freedom (from office politics, difficult
bosses, cubicles and commutes) as a main benefit to their lifestyle.
• 86% cited having a “flexible schedule” as one of the main advantages of freelancing.

3 - Freelancers are an emerging constituency and they vote in record numbers.
• More than half (53%) see themselves as members of a freelancer community.
• 100% of respondents have voted in a national election, 87% in a state
election and 83% in a local election.

4 - Freelancers who responded to our survey fall out of the social safety net.
• About 28% of freelancers who participated in the survey spent some
portion of the last year without health insurance.
• Less than half (47%) save money for retirement each month.

The survey findings indicate that freelancers are entrepreneurial workers who succeed because of their creativity, independence and drive. They contribute to key sectors of the New York City economy and are an engaged constituency.

But freelancers’ struggles are perhaps even more telling. Operating entirely outside of the safety net of employer-provided benefits, their experience illustrates the grave flaws in our system of social insurance, which limits access to health insurance and retirement plans to those with traditional employment relationships. Furthermore, as the employer-sponsored benefits system continues to erode, independent workers might well be the proverbial canaries in the coal mine demonstrating to traditional employees what their future might hold. Freelancers’ experiences have long-term implications for New York City and its public policy, as well as for the entire country.

Last updated on 03/17/2020