Freelancers are preparing for the future of work just like everybody else, but that doesn’t strictly mean gearing up to fend off an automation-driven apocalypse. There are much more immediate needs and worries that freelancers face, at least according to the data we’ve gathered here at LinkedIn ProFinder, based on a recent survey of over a thousand freelancers on the platform. Here’s what those users say are their top concerns, needs, and priorities heading into next year.
1. Affordable Medical Insurance
Since freelancers are among the most financially vulnerable in the U.S. economy, it’s no surprise that their top concern was locking down a permanent solution to healthcare in a year where that issue continues to be the subject of intense policy debate. Forty-five percent of freelancers ranked effective healthcare legislation as their No. 1 priority, followed by 21% who reported contractual protections as their main concern, and 17% who ranked payment protections their top issue.
“For many people, myself included, one of the bigger fears and challenges of [freelancing] is the loss of health benefits,” one survey respondent told us. “You are faced with either going without or paying exorbitant fees to have your own insurance. It becomes a huge portion of the cost of doing business as well as potentially making or breaking a new business. Most freelancers I know just live without health insurance.”
The tax overhaul that appears to be nearing passage by year’s end seems likely to remove the so-called “individual mandate” requiring U.S. adults to either buy health insurance or pay a penalty, a move that industry groups have argued could significantly raise premiums on insurance plans. Freelancers will be keeping a close eye on how Congress reshapes healthcare in 2018, since it could greatly impact their access to affordable medical insurance.
2. Better Contractual Protections
This issue came in just behind medical insurance in our survey. Three-quarters of all respondents backed New York City’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which took effect last May and gives freelancers legal recourse when clients stiff them on payment.
This support is hardly a new trend among freelancers, but it’s one that continues to assert itself over years of reporting. In addition to those who vocally supported the NYC measure, 69% of survey takers said they would support similar ordinances in cities across America. So in 2018, watch for efforts to expand nonpayment protections for contract workers to continue at state and municipal levels nationwide.
3. Portable Benefits
The idea of so-called “portable benefits” is another priority that’s gaining traction within the freelance community. Portable benefits would give freelancers access to resources typically reserved for full-time salaried employees–like worker’s comp, paid leave, unemployment insurance, retirement savings, and even medical benefits–which many freelancers currently forgo or assume the costs of themselves. Ideally, these benefits would follow freelancers from job to job, or, in the case of retirement savings, could actually accrue over time and provide additional security.
This summer, the Freelancers Union worked with Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and Representative Suzan DelBene (D-WA) on legislation introduced earlier this year called the “Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act.” If enacted, the program would test the efficacy of portable benefits through a $20 million grant, awarded “to states, local governments, or nonprofit organizations to support broad innovation and experimentation with respect to portable benefits.”
As Warner wrote for Fast Company last July, “We’re overdue for a relevant and modern system of social insurance” that supports freelance workers, and LinkedIn’s survey data suggests a majority of freelancers agree.
4. Reconsidering Unionization
While the power and influence of labor unions has eroded in recent decades, our data hints at quiet momentum behind a resurgence among freelancers. While only 12% of full-time freelancers said they’d already unionized, 35% said they’re interested in joining either the Freelancers Union or a similar professional group. Hypothetically, even if only half were to go on to do so next year, it would still mean that potentially one-third of all freelancers had unionized or joined a group that advocates on their behalf.
Whether they do it through collective bargaining or some other means, it’s likely that freelancers will seek to expand their influence on public policy wherever they can. The law enacted in New York City and the legislation introduced in Congress this year were just two higher-profile examples. Meanwhile, organizations like the National Domestic Workers Alliance are working to help disparate groups like maids, nannies, and home healthcare workers gain rights in states across the country. And the Black Car Fund is helping drivers in New York State take part in a worker’s comp fund for drivers in their network.
In the meantime, the scale and importance of freelancers’ top issues of concern, combined with the ever-growing ranks of the freelance economy itself, are making initiatives that might’ve seemed hard to imagine even a few years ago much more plausible heading into 2018 and beyond.
Yu Liu is a product manager at LinkedIn ProFinder.