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How the Freelance Economy has Changed in the Past 20 Years

Nov 27, 2019
We live in a time where everyone can be their own boss, literally. It’s an amazing thing that’s possible for millions of people, hugely thanks to technology. People have been freelancing for a long time but the internet changed the landscape and turned tasks as simple as driving, writing, clearing inboxes, walking pets into a side hustle for many people.

Make no mistake, freelancing is not easy. It takes a lot of courage and savvy to be a freelancer, no matter what time period you’re in. You are in charge of your destiny and not everyone wants to walk this scary road of being a freelancer.

Freelancing wasn’t always as accessible as it is today. If you’re curious about what it was like back when the internet was just beginning to emerge, keep reading. We’ll travel back and look at the timeline to know the ways that the freelance economy has changed in the last two decades.

How Freelancing Has Changed in the Last 20 Years
From the 70s up until the 90s, freelancing was not a thing. It was unheard of and if you told anyone you were a freelancer, they’d be scratching their heads. It wasn’t until the new millennium did we see people beginning to take this route in their career.

Between the years 2000 and 2014, we saw a rise in the freelance workforce by as much as 500%. Startup culture was starting to grow and more people were convinced they should be following their passion. Also add in the fact that the recession happened and it forced people to reevaluate their standing in the job market. No one is safe, therefore you had to be creative in coming up with your own “thing”.

If not freelancing full-time, most people would moonlight and do freelance jobs on the side. This meant that they weren’t reliant on one job alone for income. Some people though aren’t as resilient and would quit freelancing after doing it for only a year.

However, in the last five years, we’ve seen a rise in people settling in on the freelance life. In fact, between 2014 and 2018, almost 4 million Americans had switched to full-time freelancing. Nowadays, freelancing has become mainstream. It’s not weird anymore to hear that someone works from home. Or that they work on their own hours instead of following a fixed schedule.

Most freelancers today, if you ask them if they would go back to working 9-to-5, would say no, regardless of the high pay. There are just some priceless payoffs that the freelance lifestyle allows that a normal office job can’t, the big part being that you’re able to be autonomous.

In 2018, half of freelancers surveyed by the Fast Company had said that freelancing allows them a work schedule that doesn’t interfere with their personal situation whether it’s having enough time with kids, dealing with chronic health issues, aversion to commute, etc. Juggling these responsibilities and preferences would be difficult to pull off with a traditional job.

Now that freelancing has become the new norm, those who are a part of this economy are coming up with solutions to common problems such as health insurance coverage, unregulated rights, stagnant wages, non-existent retirement benefits. Then there’s the larger issues that affect cities and society as a whole such as AirBnb and their effect on hotel and property owners, Uber with their difficulties regulating driver behavior.

It’s also fairly normal to see a freelancer to have a workers' compensation insurance plan so that in the case of an emergency of a work related injury, you will be prepared. Most health insurance plans do not cover work-related injuries, but having your own plan can be beneficial for you and your current working engagement.

These challenges are to be expected from an economy as big as freelancing. Despite these problems existing, one cannot deny that such a lifestyle is still preferred by millions of people because it gives them freedom. So there is a big possibility that solutions will come for these problems in the future.

What are your thoughts on the freelancing economy? Are you a part of it? How has your journey been so far? Share your stories in the comments!

Meet The Author:


Susan Ranford

Susan Ranford

Susan Ranford is an expert on career coaching, business advice, and workplace rights. She has written for New York Jobs, IAmWire, and ZipJob. In her blogging and writing, she seeks to shed light on issues related to employment, business, and finance to help others understand different industries and find the right job fit for them.
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