Growing Independent Workforce Comes with Perks And Pitfalls

Welcome to Freelancer City, U.S.A., population 54 million. Last year alone, a reported 60% of freelancers transitioned to the independent workforce by choice, an increase from 7 percentage points in 2014. Though estimates vary, upwards of 30 to 34% of all American workers are now freelancers -- and those numbers are only expected to grow.

Freelancing comes with some obvious perks, like flexibility in schedule and workplace location, but it definitely isn't all about long afternoons spent on the couch. About 70% of freelancers report they have experienced some issue with getting paid, says Caitlin Pearce, the director of member engagement for the New York-based national member-based Freelancers Union.

The organization, which is free to join, now has 300,000 members -- a 3,000% growth from 2007. People leaving college make up a larger percentage of new members, says Pearce.

The rise of people participating in the "shared economy," as New York University Stern Business School professor Arun Sundararajan calls it, has not kept pace with policy developments to ensure their basic labor rights.

"We are in the early stages of a pretty profound shift in how we organize economic activity and a byproduct of that is going to be a radical change in what it means to have a job," said Sundararajan, the author of the book The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism, published this May by MIT Press.

"The fundamental shift in work is it is going to the individual but there are going to be adjustment challenges," Sundararajan continued.

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