Freelancers make up one-third of the NYC workforce: Report

It’s a freelancer’s market these days.

A report released Tuesday by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Freelancers Union, and job portal site Upwork, found that 1.3 million working New Yorkers — about one-third of the workforce — have done freelance work in the last year. Of those workers, 29% said they freelance full-time and 50% said they freelance part-time, according to the report.

Caitlin Pearce, the executive director of the Freelancers Union, said the data tracks with the freelancing community across the country; however, New York’s scene is seeing growth due to a boom in industries rife with independent workers such as media and entertainment. 

"What we really see is that people are attracted to New York because of all of the opportunities here and all of the connections and work," she said.

Pearce and other advocates added that recent initiatives and laws, such as the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, have helped those workers maintain a good foundation, and that the city and state should continue to pursue similar programs as the freelancing community grows. 

The survey has been conducted at a national and regional level in the past by the Freelancers Union, but this is the first time that a report has focused on the five boroughs. Researchers interviewed 5,000 working New Yorkers between March and April, 1,728 of whom freelanced. The overall margin of error was ±1.3%

Roughly 61% workers in media-related jobs such as editing, film and TV production and publishing are freelancers. MOME Commissioner Anne del Castillo said the increase in production companies setting up shop in the five boroughs has created more opportunities, and online hubs that help entertainment freelancers get gigs, such as the Freelancers Hub, have kept them busy.

"The study said 62% of freelancers are doing so by choice," she said. "The biggest positive take-away is that freelancers see New York as a place where they really can succeed."

The report, however, did stress there are several challenges facing the community. Although 89% of the freelance respondents said they have health insurance, a third said they were paying higher premiums compared to the previous year.

More than half of responding freelancers also said they aren’t prepared for retirement.

Jonathan Bowles, the executive director of the urban economic think tank Center for an Urban Future, said New York has a strong infrastructure for freelancers, which includes training centers and workshops and laws to protect them from unpaid wages, but lawmakers will have to strengthen them if they want the city to remain competitive.

"There is still a need to take it to the next level. With a third of the workforce doing freelance work, we should look into doing more to provide affordable benefits," he said.