When you think of the word “gig,” what comes to mind? A term that has been perhaps most traditionally associated with the musicians—referring to a paid performance or job—in recent years it has come to mean so much more.
Now, the gig economy is full of people of all ages doing work on their own terms. These individuals work for themselves, enjoying flexibility, autonomy, and freedom that’s not often associated with traditional full- or part-time employment.
That said, many people don’t realize just how large the gig workforce has become and the impact it has had on employment across the United States. Here, we’ll breakdown 20 gig economy statistics that provide insight into this industry.
To be exact, an Upwork study reports that 57 million Americans conducted freelance work in 2019—equating to about 35% of the workforce.
That said, there are plenty of reasons why you might choose to participate in the gig economy—the freedom to work when you want and with whom you want, for example, are just the tip of the iceberg.
The same UpWork study found that although 60% of workers enter the gig economy by choice, the other 40% feel like they have no other choice.
These workers report health issues or family obligations that prevent them from being able to work a traditional job that might ask more of them and require more of their time than they can offer (compared to freelancing).
According to a report from Intuit and Gallup, this represents a steady increase from when self-employment rates were at their lowest (10%) in the 1980s. And interestingly enough, the report also states that “the incomes of the self-employed are generally highly correlated with the incomes of traditional employees.”
Where are median incomes the highest for self-employment? Washington D.C., New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
Accounting for almost 11% of the change in overall sole proprietorship since 2000, the transportation services industry has exploded since the turn of the century. As you might expect, this is very likely due to the popularity of rideshare services like Uber and Lyft.
In a Fiverr survey that looked specifically at skilled independent workers, 73% of participants reported not working any other full- or part-time W-2 work. In addition, another 73% said that they only have one business entity.
According to the Intuit study mentioned above, however, 54% of people who are self-employed also do work as traditional employees. This seems to confirm the general assumption that people join the gig economy to supplement their income.
The discrepency, in these gig economy statistics, however, seems to suggest a difference in those who are generally self-employed, versus those who qualify as skilled independent workers.
Degrees are not necessarily required to do freelance work. There could be a few reasons for this—especially for millennials. For instance, these individuals may have joined the gig economy as a way to pay for college, but soon discovered they could make real money doing it.
Another possible reason? If you work for yourself, you only have your own standards to live up to, and once you start building a portfolio of your work, that’s what potential clients will care about, and not necessarily your education.
If you’re looking to get into the gig economy as a skilled independent worker, you might consider creative services (i.e. content creation, logo design, etc.) because they are the fastest growing sector.
According to Fiverr’s study, this area grew by 20% from 2012 to 2017, and in that same time frame, revenue of those workers grew by 25%. This growth could also tie back into the lack of need for a degree. A lot of jobs in the arts don’t need formal degrees to produce results.
More skilled independent workers across the United States are satisfied with their jobs as compared to the workforce as a whole. Only 2% of skilled independent workers consider themselves highly dissatisfied with their work.
Money is just one of the reasons people enter into the gig economy. In the Fiverr report, 67% said they joined the independent workforce because they wanted or needed other income.
Additionally, 44% wanted to be their own boss, 25% always wanted to be a freelancer, 24% wanted or needed a career shift, and 16% wanted to try the freelance trend. The last 8% reported “other” as their reason.
Although the gig economy is sometimes associated with managing multiple jobs at once—or trying to balance many different clients—the Fiverr report found that almost half of skilled independent workers only had between one and four clients in 2019.
Interestingly enough, the report also found that even in the age of social media, the majority of workers (67%) gained clients through word of mouth, referrals, and reputation.
The gig economy isn’t without its drawbacks. Although this first statistic might not surprise you—72% of surveyed independent skilled workers named irregular income as a drawback and 61% said lack of benefits—others might.
35% said having to supply their own tools and equipment was a serious drawback. 23% noted that the pay for their work was poor.
And less than 10% reported that they consider the following drawbacks:
Big companies are hiring external workers at a higher rate, but not for the reason you might think. Although it’s often said that companies hire external workers to save on costs, particularly benefits, only 20% of HR professionals surveyed by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) said money was the reason their company hires these workers.
Although the gig economy is continuously growing, the presence of independent workers in most companies is still small. According to the SHRM survey, 90% of HR professionals said that external workers make up less than 20% of their workforce. Additionally, more than half said external workers make up less than 5% of their workforce.
Nevertheless, these gig workers do make a positive impact.
Despite the seemingly endless possibilities that the gig economy offers, a report by PYMNTS indicates that American professionals have struggled to find their way as gig workers.
22% said that they don’t know how to get started participating in the gig economy, while another 20.9% have said that they have faced obstacles participating in the industry.
Not everyone is as into the gig economy as the numbers might indicate, however. According to the report by PYMNTS, 21.5% of American professionals surveyed expressed that they have no interest in being part of the gig economy at all.
The number of gig workers who use digital marketplaces to source jobs continues to rise. Of the gig workers who use digital marketplaces to find work, the most popular categories respondents identified were: 29.1% said they use job marketplaces, 14.6% said they use delivery services, and 12.4% said they use food services (i.e. UberEats, Grubhub, etc.).
Although social media was not one of the top digital marketplaces used overall for gig workers to source jobs, 45% of college-educated gig workers used these platforms to find work.
With more gig workers finding jobs using digital marketplaces, PayPal has become a more popular payment method, according to the PYMNTS study.
The data also found that workers that are paid using PayPal tend to be more heavily concentrated in specialized industries—with 58% of those in computers and mathematics being paid using PayPal and 51% of those in architecture and engineering being paid using PayPal.
As these gig economy statistics show, the independent workforce is a big part of the overall workforce and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. That said, becoming a part of the gig economy can be a great way to test out your entrepreneurial skills.
In addition, working a side hustle or freelance job also gives you the opportunity to be your own boss, with the potential to earn some extra money, and even launch your own small business. Wondering where to get started?
Check out our data report ranking the best 15 cities in the U.S. for freelancers.
Jennifer Post is a freelance writer who has covered business topics including marketing, franchising, cybersecurity, health insurance, and hiring and retaining employees. She has also written about various finance topics such as startup funding, business bank accounts, retirement plans, and health insurance. Jennifer has specialized experience in social media management and knows the ins and outs of marketing a business through most social media platforms.
After briefly studying law at Widener University’s Delaware Law School, she went on to continue her small business writing career using her new legal knowledge to create content helping small businesses understand legal matters such as taxes, hiring and firing practices, harassment, and other company culture matters. You can find her work on Business.com, Business News Daily, and How Stuff Works.