MBO Partners’ 10th Annual State of Independence in America report shows that COVID-19 has shaken but not destroyed the resilience of independent workers; 48% are doing ok financially while 32% are living comfortably— hiving and nomadism are top strategies to survive and thrive in the new world of work
HERNDON, VA – December 9, 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic ended the longest U.S. economic expansion in modern history. While independent workers have felt the pain of the economic fallout, they remain happy, healthy and secure, according to MBO Partners®.
The company released its 10th annual State of Independence in America report, the country’s longest-running end-to-end study of the American independent workforce, offering a decade of rich data and compelling insights showcasing a clear structural shift in how Americans think about career and income.
The corporate world got rewired as a result of COVID-19. Traditional work was a powder keg fueled by worker dissatisfaction and an archaic system out of step with modern times. COVID-19 is the match that exploded work as we know it and today has rapidly accelerated the future of work.
Five key trends emerged from this year’s study:
- Independent work becomes the new blueprint for the American dream. There is no question that the carnage in the pandemic labor market forced a large number of people who prefer full-time payroll jobs into independent work. Between 2011 and 2019, the percentage of independent workers saying it was their choice completely rose from 55 to 67 percent. In 2020 this trend was disrupted with 59 percent saying it was completely their choice. One in 11 Americans say they want to go independent, signaling this is the new American dream.
- There’s a sinkhole in the workforce, and it’s swallowing women. The share of women independents fell from averaging around 50% throughout the study to 42% in 2020. This was likely due to the fact that a significant number of women work in roles impacted by COVID-19. They were also more likely to leave or cut back on work due to COVID-induced caretaking requirements.
- Underground independence has tunneled into the mainstream. Over the past decade, workers up and down the income ladder have found that their compensation simply hasn’t kept up with rising costs. In 2020, the number of side-giggers rose 5.3 percent to 15.8 million, up 51 percent from 10.5 million in 2016.
- “Hiving” and nomadism emerge as COVID survival strategies. Staffing and the office will never be the same. Independent workers are banding together in hive-like setups or teams, with some 19 percent of full-time independents and 12 percent of traditional job workers indicating that they have teamed up with other independent workers or microbusiness, in the past 12 months. The office is also being redefined with 10.9 million American workers describing themselves as digital nomads, an increase of 49 percent from 2019. Further, in 2020, the number of traditional workers working as digital nomads grew 96 percent, from 3.2 million to 6.3 million.
- Skilled independent workers numbers are on the rise. Skilled professionals are one of the fastest-growing segments of the independent workforce, with their numbers rising in each of the past ten years. In 2011, there were 4.5 million skilled independents and in 2020 there are 7.7 million, representing a 71 percent increase.
In 2011, when MBO Partners launched this research, independent work was still something of a novelty, more often than not a necessity driven by economic circumstances. Today some 48 percent of U.S. adults report either currently working or having worked as an independent during their career, and 54 percent will do so by 2025.
“Independent work has grown from a novelty to a mainstream way of working,” said Miles Everson, CEO of MBO Partners. “We’ve reached an important inflection point in the American workforce, where workers not only desire to control their own careers, but businesses increasingly realize that accessing top talent and skills means needing to re-think how they structure their workforces and that in order to be competitive, they must leverage independent professionals as part of this modern business model.”
Independent workers are an influential economic force with 38.2 million Americans in their ranks, nearly a quarter of the total U.S. workforce. Independents generated $1.21 trillion in revenue over the past year.
Further, independents have shown consistent growth in their ability to tap into global markets. In 2020, 28 percent reported they did business outside of the U.S., up from 12 percent in 2013. Despite COVID-19 and fueled by the confluence of trends changing our future of work, independents are and will continue to be a force to reckoned with.
For more information or to obtain a copy of the 10th annual State of Independence report, please visit https://www.mbopartners.com/state-of-independence/.