US Sees Sharpest Rise in Independent Workforce in more than 50 Years

MBO Partners released its 11th Annual State of Independence in America report, the country’s longest-running end-to-end study of the American independent workforce. In the year of the ‘Great Resignation,’ there was a record-breaking 34 percent surge in people choosing independent work.

This segment jumped from 38.2 million in 2020 to a whopping 51.1 million in 2021.

“This year may be remembered as the seminal moment when work forever changed,” said Miles Everson, CEO of MBO Partners. “An undercurrent that has been simmering reached a boiling point when people were forced out of the office and into alternative work arrangements. This is the largest shift we have seen in the workforce in decades.”

Below are five trends revealed in this year’s data report.

  • Workers cut the cord on fixed locations. Freed from the confines of working in a single onsite location, many took remote work on the road. The number of digital nomads rose from 10.9 million in 2020 to 15.5 million in 2021, a 42 percent increase. Most of the nomads were traditional workers, but the number of independent digital nomads rose 15 percent, from 4.6 million in 2020 to 5.3 million in 2021.
  • Collaborators are the new colleagues. Independents refer work and share the load with other independents. Twenty-five percent find assignments through other independents. In the last year, 25 percent of full-time independents said they had teamed with independent workers or microbusinesses in their work, up from 19 percent in 2020. Collaboration is even higher for independents in the creator economy with over half (55 percent) reporting they are partnering with other content creators on projects.
  • Independents are haunted by the 1 percent. The United States has been seen as a two-tier economy, with those at the very top thriving while many at the bottom struggle. We see this effect replicated in the independent workforce with those having in-demand skills and credentials able to charge a premium for their work.
  • Inflation drives moonlighting 2.0. The rising cost of living and the loss of payroll jobs is driving more people to supplement their income with independent work. Part-time and occasional independents are the fastest-growing portion of the independent workforce. For those who became part-time independents in the past year, 73 percent cited supplementing their income as the reason.
  • Platforms become independent launching pad. As independent work has become more mainstream, we have seen a rise in businesses that facilitate this way of work. Online platforms and marketplaces are powerful facilitators that let independents find work, learn new skills and explore new markets.

The trajectory of these platforms has been one of the most powerful growth stories in this survey. In 2011, only 3 percent of independents reported using an online talent platform in the previous 12 months. But in 2021, an impressive 40 percent said they had done so in the past year. And an even higher number – 43 percent – said they planned to use an online talent platform in the coming 12 months.

For information or to obtain a copy of the 11th annual State of Independence report, visit​.