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Freelancers Make More Money and Are Just Better People (Streetwise)

Freelancers say they are making more money than their office-job counterparts, according to a new report. The survey results may only tell part of the story, but even if freelancers who work from home are making less than their full-time counterparts, they appear to be getting something else that full-time workers don't: Freelancers are more positive and they say they're more likely to vote.

In 2015, 34 percent of U.S. workers were freelancers, according to the results of a new survey commissioned by the contractor-matching site Upwork and the Freelancers Union. That means that 54 million Americans – up by 700,000 workers one year earlier – accepted freelance work as part of their full- or part-time jobs. And Upwork expects to see that growth continue.

"People are increasingly building flexible careers on their own terms, based on their passions, desired lifestyle and access to a much broader pool of opportunities than ever before in history," said Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel. "While we are still relatively early in the rise of the freelance workforce, there’s no doubt its growth will continue. Professionals are not only turning away from traditional employment, once they do most have no desire to go back."

Moreover, they may be more politically active. The survey assessed that 86 percent of freelancers intend to vote in 2016 – impressive in a country where 58.2 percent of the population voted in the the 2012 presidential election.

"The stat, while it seems high, makes a lot of sense to me," said Katie Vlietstra, vice president of public affairs and government relations at the National Association for the Self-Employed. "Our members tend to be engaged with policy."

Freelancers in the survey seemed to be largely satisfied with their situations, with 60 percent saying they went freelance by choice and 60 percent of those who left full-time jobs to pursue their freelance careers earning more than they did prior to switching. Of that group, 78 percent said that they eclipsed their previous earnings within a year of going solo.

Of course, it's important to remember that freelancers often need to make more than their full-time counterparts in order to get their incomes equal. In many situations a contractor's income may eclipse his or her earnings doing comparable work for a large company, but the costs of doing business, along with health insurance and retirement savings can eat into earnings.

Many freelancers may not be aware of that, Vlietstra said. "I personally think those individuals running right now have no clue what its takes to run a small business," she stated.

Vlietstra found the new survey results to be consistent with trends that her own organization has observed. She also added that the freedoms enjoyed by freelancers can contribute to an overall increase in career and lifestyle satisfactions for many people.

"I think there’s an overall likelihood that they have a sunnier outlook on life," she asserted.

Much of that sunnier outlook probably comes from the choices and control highlighted in the new report.

"This study shows that the flexibility and opportunity associated with freelancing is increasingly appealing and that is why we’ve seen such dramatic growth in the number of people choosing to freelance," said Sara Horowitz, the founder and executive director of the Freelancers Union.

In fact, 65 percent of freelancers surveyed cited the flexible scheduling and work locations as a motivating factor in their decision to do contract work. Women in particular favored the answer, with 73 percent of female freelancers naming it as a reason they chose their current work situations.

Technology has also played an important role the freelance shift, with 73 percent of freelancers agreeing that it has made the hunt for work easier. Among those freelancing, 51 percent had found at least one gig online, up from 42 percent in the previous year's survey.

As for the increasing number of American freelancers seen by the survey-makers, Vlietstra expects that growth continue – and she's not alone. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded an increase of 1 million self-employed persons between May 2014 and May 2015. A 2010 report from Intuit, meanwhile, asserting that "more than 80 percent of large corporations [planned] to substantially increase their use of a flexible workforce."

As that workforce continues to grow their voice at ballot boxes is likely to grow, too. Whether they can actually influence policy at the national level remains to be seen. But leaders can learn a lot about them from surveys like this one.

See the article on Streetwise here.

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