By Victoria Merlino
A third of New York City workers, or 1.3 million, did freelance work in the past year, according to a new study commissioned by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. Of those freelancers, 29 percent said they freelanced full time, and 50 percent freelanced part time.
Though freelance work powers much of the city’s media and entertainment sector especially, with 61 percent of people in those fields freelancing over the course of the past year, the courts see their share of freelancers as well. Thanks to the shortage of court reporters, for instance, freelancer reporters can make a good starting salary as their services see more demand.
Half of all freelancers feel anxious about the unpredictability of their work, according to the study, along with concerns of affording health insurance without a primary employer, collecting payments for services and being on track for retirement.
Freelancers also rely heavily on family, friends and their professional network to find jobs, the study found, with 73 percent of all freelancers using these ties to get work.
Though there are downsides, there are benefits too. More than two-thirds of freelancers do that work “because it allows them to have a flexible schedule, be their own boss, and choose their own projects,” according to the study. Freelancers also report feeling more accomplished, empowered and excited compared to non-freelancers.
"From journalists and television producers, to lawyers and nannies, independent workers are earning income in diverse and innovative ways, putting together multiple income streams, and figuring it all out on their own,” Executive Director of Freelancers Union Caitlin Pearce said in a statement. The Freelancers Union also commissioned the study.
“We must recognize this as we design for the next era of worker protections and benefits, and in how we train the workforce for the future of work,” she continued.
Freelance work generates a whopping estimated $31.4 billion in New York City annually, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Six in 10 workers said they were going to stay as freelancers for at least the next three years, and half of all freelancers in the study said they viewed freelance work as a long-term career choice.
The City Council tried to ease at least one of freelancers’ issues around working without a primary employer, extending laws around workplace discrimination last week to freelancers and contractors.
“As a former freelancer during the early stages of my career, I saw firsthand the hard work necessary for those in the arts and media to succeed with the deck stacked against them,” Ridgewood Councilmember Robert Holden said in a statement. Holden worked as a graphic designer before his role in the City Council.
“New York City may very well be the freelance capitol of the world, and this study shows the massive impact these creative workers have on our economy,” he continued.