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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some freelancers can pull in more than $100 an hour for management consulting, programming or graphic design. Others struggle to make much more than $10 an hour, beholden to "gig work" platforms like Uber or TaskRabbit.

Why it matters: Being one's own boss, with the flexibility it brings, can be lucrative for people who can differentiate themselves from competitors. For the rest, it can be quicksand.

The big picture: Freelance work makes up nearly 5% of U.S. GDP, according to a new study commissioned by Upwork, a site for high-earning freelancers to find jobs. And more people than ever — 28.5 million people, or half the freelance workforce — say it's a long-term plan.

  • Freelancers who are "significantly better than average" at their jobs tend to do well, says Stephane Kasriel, Upwork's CEO. "Stronger pros can really dictate their terms."
  • Gig work apps capitalized on this dream to attract millions to their platforms: Work whenever you want to make some spending money on the side, they promised.

But for those without a rare or standout skill, reality hasn't quite panned out that way.

  • "People turn to this work, but it's not as lucrative as they think it's going to be," says Alexandrea Ravenelle, a UNC professor who interviewed dozens of workers for her recent book, "Hustle and Gig."
  • "I'm finding a considerable number of workers end up turning to gig work, they think, for the short term — and they're still doing it 4 years later," Ravenelle says. There's no time to network or send out resumes when you're spending every working moment hunting for the next job.

The bottom line: "Given that being in the traditional workforce typically comes with benefits and protections, I think most workers would be better off being there rather than having to constantly hustle for the next gig," says Ravenelle.

Go deeper

8 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

9 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."

Updated 9 hours ago - World

In reversal, Pentagon now says drone strike killed 10 Afghan civilians

Caskets for the dead are carried towards the gravesite as relatives and friends attend a mass funeral for members of a family that is said to have been killed in a U.S. drone airstrike, in Kabul on Aug. 30. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A U.S. drone strike launched on Aug. 29 killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan, including seven children, rather than the Islamic State extremists the Biden administration claimed it targeted, the Pentagon said Friday.

Why it matters: U.S. Central Command said at the time that officials "know" the drone strike "disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat" to Kabul's airport, and that they were "confident we successfully hit the target."

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