Freelancer Tips

Freelance Report: USA's Knowledge Worker Cities

Sam Katzen
May 9, 2018

Today, Fiverr is releasing its first Freelance Economy Impact Report to answer some major questions about the future of work. Amidst the independent work revolution that’s swept across the U.S., we wanted to understand the economic footprint and impact of specialized workers, and found that their reality is distinctly different from much of the larger independent work conversation.

During a time when independents can make money doing everything from driving on a ride-hailing app to creating social media strategies, these workers include lawyers, graphic designers, wedding musicians, and engineers: anyone who receives a 1099 at the end of the year for work that requires specific skills and abilities. It’s valuable to understand the size, scope, and focus of the specialized independent workforce for three major reasons:

  • Specialized independent workers’ jobs are unlikely to be automated out of existence, thanks to the creative and service-oriented elements of their work.
  • Specialized independent workers serve as a major talent driver for both small and large businesses, helping to close the skills gap.
  • Specialized independent workers are able to earn a living regardless of geographical location, as long as they have reliable access to a fast internet connection.

By looking at the top cities for specialized independent work, we were also able to uncover some of the key differences in specialized independent work across the country.

Check out the interactive map and sortable list to see how America’s cities stack up:

Key Findings

The study, done in partnership with Rockbridge Research, focused on 15 of the country’s largest metropolitan areas coast to coast. Analyzing 20 million tax returns across those 15 cities, our projections point to over $110 billion in revenues from specialized independents. This accounts for between 1 to 2% of the GDP of these cities.

Revenue growth (11%) is outpacing the growth of the specialized independent workforce (7%), across these 15 cities, which illustrates how specialized workers are not just going independent, but successfully growing their businesses. During a period of record-low unemployment, the growth of the freelance economy and corresponding revenue suggests specialized independent workers are choosing to remain independent.

The largest cities in America (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago) are home to the greatest populations of specialized independents, with over half a million calling New York City home. However, the types of work done varies dramatically across these cities, as does the growth rate.

  • Approximately half of the specialized independent workforce provides professional services; technical service providers comprise slightly more than one-third, and creative arts/performance make up the remainder.
  • Los Angeles creative arts/performance actually outnumber their technical service providers, illustrating the creative bent of the city.
  • San Francisco, Seattle, and San Diego have the largest share of technical services professionals (35% each), matching the tech-focused mindset of each city.
  • Miami featured explosive growth in the specialized independent workforce, growing revenues 32% from 2011 to 2015.
  • San Francisco, Seattle, and San Diego have the largest share of technical services professionals (35% each), matching the tech-focused mindset of each city.
  • Miami featured explosive growth in the specialized independent workforce, growing revenues 32% from 2011 to 2015.

What the Data Tells Us

The results point to a healthy and growing freelance economy for doers a cross the country, but the income numbers only tell a portion of the story; as the kinds of the work being done highlight a broad and diverse skilled independent economy in American cities. We understand how people get things done in the new economy, and we strongly believe this upside isn’t reserved just for cities. With digital platforms, opportunity can extend to every corner of the country, so long as there is an internet connection and an ability.

Doers in our very own community illustrate just how possible it is, like Joel Young, who calls rural Ohio home and is closing in on 1 million dollars in earnings. But in order to make Joel’s story everyone’s reality, it’ll take action. Below are a few of the recommendations we’re making coming out of the study:

Legal protection

Legal protection for self-employed professionals varies wildly across the United States depending on whether they are independent contractors or run their own corporations. Thanks to the efforts of the Freelancers Union, the “Freelance Isn’t Free Act” gives freelancers enhanced legal protection and better footing in the eyes of the law when writing contracts and receiving payment from clients. We’d like to see legislation like this become the norm.

Faster, more reliable internet access Internet speeds vary broadly across states and communities. According to data from Akimai, a content delivery network, the United States ranks #10 behind South Korea, Norway, Japan, and others in average connection speed.

Worst of all, Akimai’s data indicates that Washington, D.C. and Delaware are the only two places in the United States where the average internet speed surpasses the FCC’s 25 Mbps threshold for broadband.

More worker education

The NAICS codes covered by our study include a wide range of professions united by two similarities: Practitioners are largely self-employed or operate a business outside their permanent job, and their work requires specialized skill sets and domain knowledge. However, many lack education in the business and management aspects of their profession (including  finding clients, managing their businesses and broadening their geographic reach) which limit their earning potential. Creating an educational foundation of skills as well as the learning basics of running an independent business is key to long term success.

Learn more about how Fiverr is helping to create solutions to some of these challenges here. Have questions about the report? Ask them in the comments below!

Sam Katzen
Sam runs Fiverr’s communications department, focusing on the policies, the products and the initiatives that drive Fiverr’s global community of doers.
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