May 22, 2024 - Business

SF freelancers earn almost $60,000 on average

Line chart showing annual freelance earnings in the San Francisco metro area by service offered from 2011 to 2023. Overall, freelancers in San Francisco earned an estimated $60k in 2023, compared to $45k in 2011. Technical services earned $74k, professional services earned $61k, and creative services earned $33k in 2023.
Data: U.S. Census Bureau via Fiverr; Note: Analysis includes tax returns for non-employer entities with at least $1,000 in annual receipts; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Bay Area is the most lucrative market in the U.S. for freelancers, according to a new report.

Why it matters: Freelancers account for 4.1% of the U.S. labor force — and many seem to be finding success, per freelance platform Fiverr's analysis. They contributed over $9.3 million in revenue to San Francisco's economy in 2023.

State of play: The analysis — which Fiverr published in partnership with market research firm Illuminas — shows that San José and San Francisco have the highest annual earnings per freelancer among the 30 biggest U.S. metros in 2023.

  • Freelancers in San Francisco earned $59,979 on average in 2023, up about 32% from $45,265 in 2011.
  • Those in nearby San José made an average estimated $60,135 in 2023.

By the numbers: San Francisco's freelance workforce ranks ninth in size among top markets with over 156,000 independent professionals in 2023.

  • For technical services — which include data processing, engineering and computer/IT — they earned $73,744 on average.
  • For professional services like legal, accounting and marketing, they earned $60,608 on average.
  • For creative services — which range from art and writing to video production — they earned $32,717 on average.

Yes, but: These figures would still make freelancers low-income in San Francisco, where the poverty line for an individual is $82,200 based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's estimates.

The big picture: The Bay Area and many of the other cities with higher freelancer earnings have comparatively high costs of living.

  • As a result, they've had the lowest growth rate in independent professionals compared to other markets.
  • About 29% of freelancers nationwide also have a traditional job, though the share who solely freelance is growing.

Friction point: Concerns about companies embracing generative AI are particularly pronounced among freelancers, many of whom are in creative fields and, with no strong ties to any particular employer, may feel especially vulnerable to being replaced with the emerging technology.

  • Yet the report finds that 40% of freelancers are using some form of AI themselves to help get their work done.
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