Policy

Where the Freelance Economy Is Booming


Where the Freelance Economy Is Booming

Photograph by Paul Conrath

There were 22.5 million U.S. businesses that didn’t have any paid employees in 2011, 1.7 percent more than in the year before, about 75 percent of total businesses. They reported $990 billion in total revenue, up 4.1 percent from 2010. About 18 million non-employer businesses, or about 80 percent of the total, reported receipts of less than $50,000. By non-employer businesses, we’re talking about a wide-ranging group, from freelance writers and fashion designers to real estate agents and taxi drivers who work for themselves—as well as necessity entrepreneurs who were pushed into self-employment by a rough job market in recent years.

Those numbers are from the U.S. Census Bureau, which released its annual report on non-employer businesses yesterday. As for where they worked and what jobs they did, a couple of tidbits worth noting:

• The number of non-employer businesses in North Dakota increased 4.3 percent, while the state’s non-employers’ sales increased 13.2 percent, to $2.3 billion. That’s the biggest sales increase nationwide. (Check out Kasia Klimasinska’s story on the complementary service businesses women are starting in North Dakota, sparked by the shale boom.)

• Finance, insurance, and construction were the only industries nationwide to show fewer non-employers in 2011 than in 2010.

• Fittingly, the fastest-growing sector in 2011 was what the Census Bureau lumps into “other services,” which includes auto repair, beauty salons, and dry cleaners.

One reason the economy of non-employers might keep growing: The Affordable Care Act, the bulk of which takes effect next year, will make it easier for self-employed Americans to buy their own health insurance. To that end, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates that their ranks will swell by 1.5 million in 2014.

Clark is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek covering small business and entrepreneurship.

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