State of Independence Report : 2017

Ongoing economic expansion enables those whose skills are in high demand to get more work and to command a premium for their services

The independent workforce continues to grow and mature, even as the economy continues to rebound and the unemployment rate declines, according to our annual research.

In our 2017 study, we found that the total number of self-employed Americans aged 21 and above rose to 40.9 million in 2017, up 2.8 percent from 2016. Independents, who now represent about 31 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force, are distributed across every demographic, age, gender, skill and income group.

More than 40 percent of the U.S. adult workforce reports either currently working or having worked as an independent at one time during their careers. Over the next five years, MBO Partners projects that fully half of the U.S. adult workforce will have experienced what independent work can offer.

"The State of Independence report, the only of its kind with seven years of trending data, shows definitively that independent work is the way of the future," said Gene Zaino, CEO of MBO Partners. "Even against a strong economy, independents, particularly in skilled labor markets, choose this path over traditional employment. Sixty-five percent of all independents say that independent work was their choice entirely, and this number will continue to rise as organizations compete in a war for top talent in highly competitive fields such as engineering and computer science."

Independents work in all segments of the U.S. workforce and are of vital impact to our economy, generating roughly $1.2 trillion of revenue for the U.S. economy, equal to about 6 percent of U.S. GDP.

3 Key Trends

    1. The number of high-earning independents rose for the sixth year in a row. Ongoing economic expansion enables those whose skills are in high demand to get more work and to command a premium for their services. Now, 3.2 million Full Time Independents make more than $100,000 annually, up 4.9 percent from 2016 and an annualized increase of more than 3 percent each year since 2011. This population now represents nearly one in five Full Time Independents.
    2. More Americans are seeking to supplement their income with part-time independent work or "side gigging." Though the economy is getting stronger, the typical American worker has seen very little - if any - wage gains. As a result, many Americans who are struggling to keep up with inflation and higher costs are supplementing their income with part-time independent work or side gigging. Fueled in part by the growth of the increasing number of online platforms, the number of people working as Occasional Independents (those working irregularly or sporadically as independents but at least once per month) soared 23 percent to 12.9 million, up from 10.5 million in 2016.
    3. A strong job market has created a "barbell effect" on both sides of the independent work spectrum. The U.S. unemployment rate is at a low 4.4 percent, there are 5.7 million job openings, and the economy added 2.2 million jobs in the past year. Work opportunities are growing on both sides of the spectrum-both unskilled and skilled-creating a barbell effect. At the low end of the market, there is growing demand for online platform workers, such as Uber drivers or TaskRabbiters, who usually go independent to supplement income, learn new skills, or even to socialize in retirement. On the other end of the spectrum, we see a strong rise in entrepreneurial independent professionals earning significant incomes by offering unique services in areas such as technology and marketing. In the middle of the spectrum, the independent population has largely remained the same size.

"While we continue to see differences in attitudes between the different groups of independent workers, the population generally reports that independent work-and the independent lifestyle-is a satisfying way of building income and obtaining greater freedom, control and purpose," said Zaino. "The very structure of work in America is evolving, and the demand for skilled independents will only increase as companies look to become more agile and flexible in the future."


This strong job market means independents have an easier time than ever finding work as jobs open and companies experience a talent shortage. The tight labor market and ongoing economic expansion enables those with in-demand skills to get more work, and to command a premium for their services.

Related Infographic
MBO's State of Independence Research is the longest-running and most respected research on the independent workforce. View our previous reports.
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