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First Ever "Freelancing in NY" Study Reveals that One in Three New York City Workers — Or 1.3M – Have Freelanced in the Past 12 Months, Collectively Earning $31.4B Annually

In NYC's vibrant media and entertainment sectors, 61% of the workforce have freelanced in the past 12 months

Many New Yorkers are entering the job market freelancing, including 46% of recent grads. Two-thirds cite a higher level of work satisfaction than non-freelancers


Freelancing in NY


New York — September 10, 2019 - The NYC Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, Freelancers Union, and Upwork, today released the results of "Freelancing in New York: 2019," the first comprehensive measure of how freelancing factors into the New York City workforce. The study, launched in part to inform work at Freelancers Hub, the first City-funded effort providing dedicated coworking and training to freelancers, estimates that 1.3 million workers have performed freelance work in the past 12 months with 29% saying they freelance full-time, 50% part-time, and 20% as supplemental income to other traditional full-time work. The estimated annual economic impact of this freelance work is $31.4 billion in earnings. Full study results are available here.



Notable findings reveal:

  • Freelance work is prevalent in New York City's robust media and entertainment sectors. 
    61% of these sectors' workers have engaged in freelance work in the past 12 months, including:
    • 68% of journalism or digital media workers
    • 67% of music or performing arts workers
    • 60% of marketing or advertising workers
    • 52% of film or television workers
    • 54% of publishing workers
  • 74% of workers in the media and entertainment sectors that reported freelancing in the past 12 months, did so daily or weekly. 
  • For New Yorkers engaged in freelance work, 45% of their personal income comes from freelancing, on average on an individual level. 
  • Most freelancers in NYC freelance by choice. Asked whether they started freelancing more by choice or necessity, 62% of freelancers said by choice.
  • Freelancers more actively seek skills training: Freelancers are 13 percentage points more likely than non-freelancers to have participated in professional training in the past six months. To succeed as freelancers, 82% are looking for more training to improve business-related skills, including marketing, networking, and financial management. 
  • And their network is critical for finding work. 73% of NYC freelancers utilize friends, family, clients, or professional contacts as a means of finding work — a figure that jumps to 80% for media and entertainment freelancers.
  • Freelancers are most challenged by lack of affordable insurance and uncertain income. While freelancers' primary concern is access to affordable health insurance, they also worry about managing their day-to-day finances and collecting payments for services, as 74% have experienced nonpayment or late payment.


"Built on innovation, hard work and entrepreneurial instincts, New York City's creative economy is in large part driven by the freelance community," said Anne del Castillo, Commissioner, NYC Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment. "That was the impetus for establishing the Freelancers Hub: to serve the community that drives our media and entertainment sectors. This groundbreaking study provides critical insight into the challenges and opportunities freelancers face, and how we can better support them in order to strengthen and grow our city's creative industries."

"New York City has long been a hub for freelance work. Now we have the data that shows the breadth of this workforce — which comprises one in three working New Yorkers," said Caitlin Pearce, Executive Director of Freelancers Union. "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. 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."

"We are committed to working on behalf of freelancers from all industries to create a more secure workforce for today's evolving economy," said Department of Consumer and Worker Protection Commissioner Lorelei Salas. "NYC's Freelance Isn't Free Act, the first law of its kind in the country, gives freelance workers the legal right to written contracts, timely payment, and freedom from retaliation and we will continue to ensure they are protected."

"This new study shows that a lot of people participate in the freelance economy," said Adam Ozimek, Chief Economist of Upwork. "From part-time freelancers earning money on the side to full-time independent professionals doing highly paid skilled work, it's a diverse and important part of the New York City economy."

"Freelance work is growing in New York City, and now we have the data to show how freelancers are a key aspect of our workforce. This will help us more adequately legislate to improve their quality of life," said State Senator Jessica Ramos.

"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," said NYC Council Member Robert Holden, chair of the Committee on Technology. "Freelancers have no employment benefits and must always look for their next project, sometimes completing entire projects without any guarantee that they will get paid. 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. We should all appreciate the work ethic of freelancers and do all we can to support them."

"New York City is home to a vibrant media and entertainment sector, and freelancers are a driving force behind its success," said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. "Freelancers are especially vulnerable members of our city's workforce because of particular challenges that they face like uncertain income and securing affordable health insurance. The report released by The NYC Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, Freelancers Union and Upwork provides valuable insight into the world of freelancers and will serve as a guide in strengthening their protections."

Additional findings include:

New York City's vibrant media and entertainment sectors attract a large number of freelancers. 9% of the city's overall workforce are workers in media or entertainment who have engaged in freelance work over the past 12 months earning more than $9B annually.

Freelancers are putting together diverse income streams by accessing work in different ways: most don't have a single employer but get their work from a variety of sources such as employers, freelance, temporary, or supplemental work (the majority are either Diversified Workers, 35%—people with multiple sources of income from a mix of traditional employers and freelance work— or Independent Contractors, 33%).

Freelancers have a higher level of satisfaction with their work than non-freelancers and find New York City to be a promising place to work.

  • More than two-thirds of freelancers say they freelance because it allows them to have a flexible schedule, be their own boss, and choose their own projects.
  • Freelancers are more likely than non-freelancers to say their work provides them with upward mobility (+12 percentage points) and appropriate pay (+8 percentage points). 
  • Freelance work is more likely to make them feel accomplished (+7 percentage points), excited to start each day (+12 percentage points), and empowered (+9 percentage points) compared to non-freelancers.
  • A majority of freelancers (six in 10) say opportunities in NYC are more attractive than in other places in the United States. They particularly feel that they can earn more money (57%) and more easily build a client network in New York City (56%). Six in 10-plan to remain freelancing in New York City for at least the next three years.

Freelancers face complex challenges — and an uncertain income.

  • Freelancers' primary concern is access to affordable health insurance—not surprising, as 36% of freelancers who currently have health insurance report paying more in health premiums this year than last.
  • Freelancers also worry about managing their day-to-day finances (51% feel anxious or concerned) and collecting payments for services (73% have experienced nonpayment or late payment), and they do not feel on-track for retirement (52%).
  • Half of freelancers also feel anxious about the unpredictable nature of their work.

When it comes to training, freelancers are actively updating their skills and believe that freelance business skills like marketing, networking, and financial management are critical for success.

  • Most freelancers (60%) are updating their skills to ensure that they remain marketable as the job market evolves, and 56% have participated in skills-related training in the past six months (versus only 43% of non-freelancers).
  • Unfortunately, cost is a barrier. A majority (57%) of freelancers say that cost gets in the way of obtaining the training they need.
  • Three-quarters of NYC freelancers say building a network — through friends, family members, clients, or professional contacts — is critical to earning more income. And 61% would like better access to affordable coworking workspace options in their neighborhoods.

About Freelancing in New York: 2019

To see further insights, please visit here for access to the full results deck and other materials. The study is conducted by independent research firm Edelman Intelligence. Five thousand working adults over the age of 18 living in New York City were surveyed online between March 22, 2019 and April 18, 2019.

Individuals were asked a series of questions about their paid work over the past 12 months, in order to obtain a full picture of the different ways working New Yorkers earn income. Of those, 1,728 had engaged in freelance work and 3,272 had not. Results are weighted to ensure demographic representation in line with the New York City American Community Survey. The study has an overall margin of error of ±1.3% at the 95% level of confidence. Because this study uses a definition of freelance work that may differ from other sources, readers should exercise caution before comparing these findings to other published results.