The Great Realization: New Data Shows Dramatic Surge in Freelance Workers

By MBO Partners | August 31, 2021

MBO logo

-MBO Partners’ 11th Annual State of Independence in America report shows that the number of independent workers grew to over 51 million in 2021, an unprecedented 34% growth in a single year

-This wave of new independents is being led by women (55%) and the younger generation (68% are Gen Z or Millennials).


ASHBURN, VA – August 31,  2021​ –A new study from ​MBO Partners® shows that 2021’s economic recovery and changing attitudes about work has driven the number of independent workers to 51.1 million, an unprecedented 34% rise in workers taking the leap to independent careers.

MBO Partners released the Census Brief, ahead of its 11th annual State of Independence in America report, the country’s longest-running end-to-end study of the American independent workforce.

How workers think about and approach work has been evolving over the past decade, with more and more people choosing to be independent workers.   The global pandemic has accelerated the Great Realization, a trend in which workers are re-examining the ways they choose to pursue careers, find professional and personal fulfillment, and manage their income and lifestyles. The State of Independence study supports this, with more than a decade of data showing that people who choose to work independently find high levels of satisfaction, work-life balance, and even report feeling happier, healthier and more financially secure than traditional workers.

This year’s study showed five key insights about the rise of independent work.

  • Side hustle to the rescue. The economy has reopened but many Americans are unemployed or have had their hours reduced. Seventy-three percent (73%) of those who started working as a part-time independent indicate supplementing their income as the reason.
  • Women respond to the “shecession”. Data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showed that 11 million women lost their jobs during this pandemic. Women fought back by seeking work that afforded them to earn income in a way that fits into their demanding schedules. Over half (55%) of the new independents identify as female.
  • Risk is relative. The pandemic reinforced a growing view that traditional jobs are riskier and less secure than they once were. This view is reflected in the study with 68% of full-time independents indicating that working independently is more secure than having a traditional job.
  • Younger generations lean into freedom. About two-thirds (68%) of new independent workers, who started their business in the past year are Gen Zers (aged 18-25) or Millennials (aged 26-40).
  • This way to independence. Today the road to independence has become easier and cheaper thanks to online platforms and companies embracing the independent workforce. Among those who began as independent workers over the prior year, 40% report using online talent platforms that make it easier for workers and enterprises to do business together. Further, 72% cite social media as an important tool for building their brand and reputation.

MBO Partners launched this research in 2011 when independent work was still something of a novelty, more often than not a necessity driven by economic circumstances. Today, independent work is not only mainstream but a critical tool for enterprises to become a client of choice.

“The pandemic accelerated an inevitable tipping point for the modernization of work, as evidenced by the 51 million independent workers in America,” said Miles Everson, CEO of MBO Partners. “In the new work landscape, independence is not only mainstream but a vital part of the American economy and workforce.”

MBO Partners will release the full 2021 State of Independence study in the fall. To obtain a copy of the brief, please visit​.


About MBO Partners®

MBO Partners is a deep jobs platform that connects and enables independent professionals and microbusiness owners to do business safely and effectively with enterprise organizations. Its unmatched experience and industry leadership enable it to operate on the forefront of the independent economy and consistently advance the next way of working.

For more information, visit​ ​​

Media Contact

Karen Swim
Words for Hire LLC​

McLean Robbins
Vice President, Marketing



Related Posts

Learn more about the MBO Platform


Start, run, and grow

your independent business with MBO


Engage, scale, and optimize

your independent workforce