The rise of the freelance worker in the U.S. has long been a talking point about the changing future of work. The data backs up the rhetoric, with 57.3 million freelancers contributing $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy in the last year.
Despite the rapid growth, economic contribution, and impact of the freelance economy and its workers, little attention has been given to the policy issues that matter most to one of the fastest-growing subsets of American workers.
Fiverr sought out answers, working alongside research house VIGA to ask more than 1,000 freelancers across the country how they felt about the top issues of the day. The results of the survey showcase how freelancers view their role in the economy, their concerns about their security, and their desires from policymakers. Most of all, the data highlights how freelancers are different from the average American, and that difference stuck out immediately when it came to the number-one concern for freelancers: healthcare.
Tech companies with a stake in the independent workforce have long known the importance of healthcare to their workers, and they’ve previously acted accordingly. In 2016, at the end of the Obama administration, gig economy companies partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to get the word out.
By 2017 the political climate had shifted, and government support for healthcare awareness had dried up. To fill in the gaps, Fiverr led a coalition of like-minded gig platforms to drive enrollment, education, and awareness to a collective audience of 3.5 million independent workers.
This year, that support has extended to a digital advertising campaign from Fiverr and Postmates that goes beyond their individual communities to engage all independent workers with enrollment reminders and educational resources from the nonprofit Small Business Majority; all in the name of addressing this critical need.
Why is healthcare such a big issue for freelancers? Unlike traditional employees in the United States, freelancers are entirely reliant on themselves to get covered. Until the Affordable Care Act debuted, that responsibility could be something of a nightmare, with pre-existing conditions and access impacting a freelancer’s ability to get covered. Without a safety net in place, many were either left in a precarious position of going uncovered or living the financial free-fall that comes from getting hurt without coverage.
“The biggest national and political issue for me is healthcare,” said Paul Maplesden, a Fiverr Pro freelancer offering writing services in Asheville, North Carolina. “With all the uncertainty that exists around changing laws and options, and as something that I spend $12,000 a year on, it’s really important to get good information because it can be the difference between making the right decision and the wrong one.”
The issue transcended party politics in many cases, as Republican freelancers agreed with their Democratic counterparts on a slew of healthcare-related issues. Both groups overwhelmingly felt that insurance companies should not be allowed to deny someone coverage because of pre-existing conditions, with 76% and 71% of Democrat and Republican freelancers, respectively, agreeing.
Both groups also felt that government has a role in regulating the price of life-saving drugs, with roughly 70% of both groups in agreement. Lastly and perhaps most surprisingly, both groups felt that Medicaid funding should grow, with over half of Republican freelancers agreeing along with 3-in-4 Democrats.
But freelancers were not a completely unified front when it came to all healthcare issues. Hot-button, politicized topics were areas of great divide among the freelance coalition. The single-payer system and the Affordable Care Act were wedges between Democrat and Republican freelancers, with the ACA accounting for the largest gulf–18% Republican approval compared to 74% for Democrats.
A separate survey conducted by Freelancers Union and Upwork revealed that freelancers are saying they’re more politically active–and 72% are willing to cross party lines to vote for candidates who support affordable and accessible healthcare, higher pay, and retirement for these workers.
Ultimately, politicians are already recognizing the increased role independent workers have in the United States and its economy. With a growing population that skews younger, savvy politicians will take note of the policy issues that matter to the growing freelance constituency, and that revolves around healthcare. By no means is it the only issue. Topics like portable benefits, continuing education, and gender equality all strike a chord with American freelancers, likely driven by their importance within the freelance mindset.
Brent Messenger is the Global Head of Community at Fiverr