Statistics and descriptors of the independent workforce in the U.S. have been hard to come by. The government categories and statistical focus (developed during the Depression) don’t catch the workforce variations that are becoming increasingly important. For example, many government statistics only count people/businesses that have legally incorporated in their self-employed category.

To meet the information gap and do some marketing research, MBO Partners has commissioned an annual survey of independent workers. Now, truth in reporting, working with independent workers is the focus of MBO Partner’s business so the possibility of bias is clearly there but they have hired research firms to do these surveys for the last three years and the data appear carefully analyzed. So, what have they found out?

There are currently approximately 17.7 million individuals who report that they work at least 15 hours a week in non-traditional, non-permanent, full-time or part-time employment. This includes people who identify themselves as freelancers, consultants, contractors, self-employed, temps, solopreneurs, among other titles. The study predicts that there will be 24 million workers in this category by 2018.

Almost 75% of the respondents said they worked between 30-40 hours a week. They live all over the nation – in urban areas (40%), within commuting distance of major metropolitan areas (30%), and in rural areas or small towns (30%). They are in all age groups – Millennials (20%), Gen-X (36%), Boomers (33%), and Matures (11%).

Multi Generational 4

Specifics about each group include:

  • Gen-Xers (currently aged 34-49) state they enjoy the lack of organizational politics and the greater ability to control their careers and the work-life flexibility independence allows when compared to the average of all the other generational groups combined
  • Baby Boomers (currently aged 50-67) were likely to have experienced a layoff or termination than the other groups (27% vs. 20% for non-boomers). They too appreciate less office politics and see independence as a way to insulate themselves from the job uncertainties of corporate life. Most see themselves as business owners with almost 60% describing themselves specifically as “business owners” (40%) or “owners of micro businesses” (20%) among a number of suggested self descriptions.
  • Matures (currently aged 68+) are the most satisfied (84% saying they are highly “satisfied”) with 74% planning to continue to work and 6% saying they want to build their business bigger.
  • Among the Millennials (currently aged 21-32) 25% turned to independent work because they could not find a job, others became independent because they felt previous employers did not recognize their value (45% said this vs. 35% for all other groups). They love the freedom and flexibility more independent work affords. However, many more millennials turned to temporary, on-call work or fixed contract work than in other groups; these job types are correlated with less satisfaction.

Overall, 64% of the entire group rate their satisfaction as very high (i.e., 8 or more on a 10 point scale). This compares very favorably with the figures on the engagement of traditional employees. For example, Gallup’s most recent study of employee engagement reports that 30% of the workforce is engaged. Over half of the independent workers say they actively choose this career path with another 30% saying that it was one factor among a number of factors that led them to become independent. The rest were forced into this type of employment via downsizings, layoffs, illness, etc.

How does this match with how you define yourself? Are you satisfied or highly satisfied with your work? Do you plan to stay independent? Will you build your business? What are your major concerns?

The State of Independence in America
The State of Working America by Gallup
Sally Power, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and personal consultant accelerating successful career transitions.

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