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Welcome to the age of mainstream freelancing and side hustles

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Bureau of Labor // Illustration by Kate Walker

Welcome to the age of mainstream freelancing and side hustles

 

Future. While the pandemic led to both financial hardship and job insecurity for many Americans, it also spurred the biggest rate in job growth in over a decade. The huge uptick in startups and side hustles shows not only how people got back to work but also how they’ve found new freedom and purpose in work. Now that Americans have a new taste for entrepreneurship, there may be strong demand for legislation that supports new mainstream work habits.

Day job(s)
With remote work the norm, working for yourself is also taking off.

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that during the first few months of the pandemic, applications for new businesses spiked 89% above 2019 levels, and they’re up 40% this year in comparison to 2019.
  • While entrepreneurship had been languishing over the past decade, 3.7% more Americans now work for themselves than before the pandemic.
  • Of those newly-created businesses, 4.1% were hired for the first time — the highest rate since the early 90s.
  • According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, new business applications soared 23% in 2020 in the U.S. — the most of any advanced country.

And which are the lucky industries to see the biggest gains in new companies? Online retail, food services, and personal and professional services — are all industries now on a hiring spree to bring back displaced workers. (Sorry, they made their own jobs.)

Back-pocket possibilities
While Insider reports that many of these new businesses were created out of necessity (job loss, spousal job loss, pay cuts, etc.), a large share are deciding to stick with the freelance life. Why? More freedom and more meaning. Even workers who are still in their old jobs (but are working remotely) see the benefits — an Upwork survey found that 18% of workers would start their own business if that meant they could continue working from home.

And while there are a lot of job openings available in the market, many may not be filled for quite some time. It’s not because people don’t want to work (a myth of the Great Resignation); it’s because people are just busy working for themselves… and that’s a good thing. John Haltiwanger, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland, notes that new businesses drive innovation, lead to job growth for those with less work experience, and lead to more competition. Dynamism is back, baby.

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