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The Associated Press reports on a US Labor Department study saying that “more than 15 million Americans were working as independent contractors, on-call workers, temporary workers and for contract companies as of May 2017. That’s equal to about 10.1 percent of the American workforce, down slightly from 10.8 percent when the government last conducted the survey, in 2005.”

These figures, the story notes, are at odds with conventional wisdom that more people than ever are working as independent contractors, including a 2016 study saying “that the number of people in alternative work had risen by more than 50 percent in 2015 from a decade earlier, to 23.6 million.”

The reason for the disparity?

For one thing, according to the AP, “There are more independent workers in some industries, but they were offset in the government data by declines elsewhere, says Lucas Puente, chief economist at Thumbtack, an online marketplace for photographers, plumbers and other contractors.

“The number of independent contractors rose by about 200,000 in transportation from 2005 to 2017, the government’s report found. That likely reflects the growth of ride-hailing services. But the number of independent contractors in construction fell by about 225,000 over the same period, probably because of the housing bust, Puente said.”

And, the story says, the improvement in employment figures over the past two years may mean that people who used to work as independent contractors may have been lured into full-time jobs.
KC's View:
You may be asking yourself, why does this matter?

That’s what I asked myself. (I’m an independent contractor and have been - with a short, unpleasant, though ultimately professionally consequential interregnum of a few years - since 1994.)

Here’s the answer, according to the AP: “The government’s report was the subject of intense interest in part because of the impact it might have on the policy debates surrounding independent work.

“Freelance advocates say their ranks are growing steadily. Many say policymakers should consider ways to help them, such as by making health and retirement benefits more portable from job to job. But if independent work isn’t growing much, than such changes aren’t as urgent.”