By Gary M. Stern
FORTUNE -- More and more, it seems the early 21st century will be marked as the beginning -- or return, as the case may be -- of the era of the American freelancer.
A September survey of over 3,000 independent contractors conducted by Elance, a website that helps freelancers find work, reports that 57% of those surveyed reported an increase in 2012 income and 67% expect their income to rise in 2012.
Fabio Rosati, CEO of Elance, says that his company's site will have posted nearly 1 million freelance jobs by the end of 2012, a substantial increase from 650,000 in 2011. "Businesses are posting a record number of 'fractional' jobs and hiring freelancers suited to do the work," he says. In Elance's survey, 42% of employers said they anticipate hiring more freelancers in 2013 than the previous year.
Creative, technical, IT, and programming gigs are the fastest growing in the freelance market, according to Rosati. He says that these creative jobs often call for multimedia skills, and IT and programming often entail mobile app development. Rosati says that freelance legal and accounting workers are also in demand.
The ranks of the self-employed have held relatively steady over the past few years. In 2009, 15.3 million Americans identified themselves as self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In October 2012, 14.9 million U.S. workers were self-employed.
Employers enjoy several benefits from hiring freelancers. For one, it keeps their costs down, since consultants or temporary workers don't receive health care and retirement benefits, vacation time, and many do not require office space.
Eighty-three percent of Elance's employer clients cite speed as a major impetus to hiring freelancers. In many cases, these companies claim, projects are completed faster because freelancers bring special skills and can zero in on each job. Once a freelancer is brought on board and gets a sense of the culture at a company, firms often develop a steady cohort of independent contractors who perform work quickly, Rosati suggests.
Daniel Pink, author of Free Agent Nation, attributes the recent rise in freelancers to several factors. For one, Pink says, the "dodgy economy has made employers loath to hire full-timers." Freelancers provide "the right talent for the right task at the right time," he says. More
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