May 21, 2024 - Business

D.C. freelancers bring home some of the country's highest paychecks

Line chart showing annual freelance earnings in the D.C. metro area by service offered from 2011 to 2023. Overall, freelancers in D.C. earned an estimated $55k in 2023, compared to $44k in 2011. Technical services earned $75k, professional services earned $51k, and creative services earned $27k 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: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

D.C. is one of the country's top freelance capitals, finds a new Fiverr report.

The big picture: Washington saw the third-highest annual earnings per freelancer among the 30 biggest U.S. metros in 2023, clocking in behind San Jose and San Francisco, found Fiverr.

  • This comes as freelancers account for 4.1% of the U.S. labor force, per the report — and many seem to be finding success, with 43% reporting a revenue bump last year.

State of play: D.C. freelancers made an average estimated $54,759 last year, a number that creeps up to $75,255 when focusing solely on freelancers working in technical fields.

  • The city's average estimated freelance earnings have jumped 28% in a decade, from $42,662 in 2013.

Yes, but: Freelance D.C. creatives make far less — an estimated average of $26,512 last year — while freelancers in professional fields like accounting or marketing brought in $50,914.

Bar chart showing the metro areas with the highest average freelancer earnings in 2023, overall and by the service offered. Overall, San Jose, Calif., had the highest average freelance earnings at just over $60k per year. Nashville led in earnings for creative services at $56k, D.C. led for technical services at $75k, and San Francisco led in professional services at $61k.
Data: Fiverr via U.S. Census Bureau. Note: Analysis includes tax returns for non-employer entities with at least $1,000 in annual receipts. Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

What they did: The report, which freelance platform Fiverr published in partnership with market research firm Illuminas, is based on data from several government sources, researchers' estimates, and a survey of 801 freelancers conducted between January 26 and February 7, 2024.

What they found: The country's freelancers seem to be a generally optimistic bunch, with 55% expecting to earn more this year than in 2023.

  • 29% of freelancers also have a traditional job, though the share who solely freelance hit 71% in 2023 compared to 61% in 2021.
  • A "striking" 75% of freelancers with a full-time gig say they're highly satisfied with their side hustle, per the report, compared to just 47% who feel the same way about their day jobs.

Caveat: The report's earnings data is based on individual tax filings, which is "not exactly the same as skilled independent workers but can be considered a good approximation."

Stunning stat: Gen Z freelancers appear to be acknowledging the value of their work, with 76% saying they're at least somewhat likely to raise their rates or fees in the coming months, compared to 49% of freelancers overall.

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 that emerging technology.

  • Yet the report finds that 40% of freelancers are themselves using some form of AI to help get their work done.
  • "Freelancers using AI-based tools experienced a significant boost in productivity, saving an average of 8.1 hours per week," the report finds.

Reality check: While freelancing can have its benefits — like flexible schedules and locations — it can also be tough to get started, be treated well and paid promptly by clients, and get health care and other benefits.

What they're saying: "We are in our seventh year of putting this report together, and year over year, we see more and more people choosing the freelance lifestyle," writes Fiverr founder and CEO Micha Kaufman.

  • "It confirms my belief that independent work is the future."

The bottom line: Freelancing has challenges of its own, but a regular 9-5 simply isn't the only way to thrive anymore.


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