Sep 15, 2020 - Economy & Business

The coronavirus freelancing boom

Illustration of gloved hands juggling multiple briefcases

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic has supercharged the freelance economy.

Why it matters: Millions of workers are freelancers by choice, but millions of others are wading into this riskier and less stable way of life because of the pandemic's economic turmoil.

By the numbers: The freelance economy is now worth $1.2 trillion, a 22% increase from 2019, according to a new report from Upwork.

  • There are 59 million freelancers in the U.S. — just over a third of the workforce — and 36% of them do this type of work full-time, up from 28% last year.
  • Two fast-growing freelancer cohorts are parents who are juggling child care and work during the pandemic and Gen Zers, many of whom are learning remotely or taking a year off from college, says Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork.
    • 48% of freelancers are caregivers, and half of Gen Zers are freelancing, per the report.

"Freelancers are dealing with the same economy everyone else is dealing with," Ozimek says.

  • While the availability of freelancing gigs has increased in telework-friendly industries like tech and finance, it has slumped in education and entertainment.

The bottom line: In such uncertain times, "freelancing is really flexible for both the workers and the companies," Ozimek says. "They're the first ones in. But then they're also the first ones out. That’s part of the flexibility companies get from it."

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