The United States
The US currently has the highest real number of freelancers in real terms than any other country. The last official census in 2006 put the number of the contingent workforce – those without a permanent contract at a single workplace – at 18%. Two per cent of those were labourers.
There are more recent unofficial counts, but they vary greatly, with estimates between 34 and 60 million freelance workers. To give some perspective, the Freelancers Union in New York puts the number at 42 million, however they include anyone who has worked as a freelancer for more than 1 hour, which is unsustainable, and they lie outside of the demographic that will instigate change.
More current official statistics are more remarkable: between 2009 and 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the number of temporary employees increased by 29%. This is yet to be qualified and put into context in the official census, though it no doubt represents a fundamental change the American workforce, and one to be considered in current policy decision-making.
Freelancers rights movement in European Union
Freelancing is similarly important in the EU. A 2012 study by the European Forum of Independent Professionals (EFIP) found that, between 2000 and 2011, the number of freelancers rose by 82% to 8,569,200.
According to this study, Italy has the most freelancers of any EU country in real numbers, with around 1.68 million independent workers. This is likely partly explained by the high level of unemployment that the country faces, and so as people are laid off, they opt to register themselves as a freelancer, rather than unemployed.
The EFIP study cites Germany as the next largest freelancer economy with an approximate 1.53 million, but other studies find differently. The Deutsche Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, or the German Institute for Economic Research, put the number at 2.6 million in 2011. This was the result of a 40 per cent increase since 2000.
While this only (currently) constitutes around 6.5 per cent of the workforce, it was considered big enough to signal a new law aimed at fixing the broken pension system, and which required all freelancers earning over €400 per month to pay a minimum €350 retirement contribution.
The United Kingdom has the third highest number in the EU with 1.6 million, or one in every 20 workers.
Similarly in Australia, a move by large companies to outsource work, and a growing desire to succeed alone, means an estimated 2.1 million people – or 19% of the nation’s workforce – are now self-employed.
Independent professionals are defined as freelancers, independent contractors, or members of a small business start-up, so if employing the definition of ‘freelancer’ as used by unions and support groups, etc, this number will be lower.
Australian research on this trend confirms that the number is on the rise. Supporting this, 91 per cent of survey respondents reported being generally happy with the kind of work they did as a freelancer, and the majority cited benefits including lifestyle and wellbeing.
Again, without any current or comprehensive official counts, it is near impossible to reach any number with exactitude. What is clear, however, is that the freelancer demographic is already significant, and is on a steady rise. This fact alone is enough to warrant engaging in conversations about the impact of the freelance employment market on the wider economy, and the impacts of the existing legal structures which, if left unamended, could have dire repercussions on the independent workforce and society as a whole.