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Freelancers work more hours than the average American does

Despite the belief that most of us are slogging through 9-to-5 work days, it turns out the average American workweek is a measly 34 hours. Meanwhile, full-time freelancers are logging 36 hours of work per week.

According to Friday’s employment report, companies added just 156,000 jobs to the US economy, and the average workweek increased 0.1 hour from August to 34.4. In manufacturing, the workweek also increased 0.1 hour to 40.7 hours.

Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist of the bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, says the workweek hovered at at 34.4 hours several months before August. “The increase today looks like the workweek for Americans is back to where it was,” he said.

Mark Hamrick, Bankrate.com’s senior economic analyst, added that he believes the uptick for average hours worked is a positive indicator of a robust economy.

“It’s generally a good sign that there is sufficient demand to need workers to work a longer week because it shows employers are meeting demand for services,” Hamrick told Yahoo Finance. “The job market is at a level that’s typically associated with full employment. With the surge in freelancing, we certainly have a more dynamic work force, but for some people it’s out of necessity, not by choice.”

The freelance workforce

Hamrick is addressing the expanding and evolving nature of work: the number of people who identify as freelancers grew from 53 million in 2014 to 55 million in 2016, which is about 35% of the US workforce.

“There is a changing nature of work and sometimes this is cited as a factor that leaves Americans feeling less secure. That is probably true but the most important statistic is always how many jobs are being created, not the quality,” Rupkey said. “The study of economics is terrible at drawing conclusions about quality.”

Though the official Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report does not explicitly detail how freelancers fit into the macro picture, a new comprehensive study of 6,000 working adults in the US conducted by Upwork and the Freelancers Union illuminates that freelancers actually work more hours than the average American.

According to the study, full-time freelancers are working 36 hours per week. And 52% of full-time freelancers say they have the right amount of work (23% have more work than desired and 25% have less work than desired).

Freelancers who were surveyed believe their best days are ahead, and that demand for contracts will continue to increase. Eighty-six percent of full-time freelancers say they anticipate that opportunities to pick up projects will continue to grow.

And of those who left a traditional job to freelance, 54% say they make more than they did before.

There is, of course, a clear trade-off: Freelancers may have the flexibility and autonomy to dictate the ways in which they work. But they are also working more hours without many of the benefits that traditional employees receive.

Rupkey says, however, that Americans should be grateful the US economy has as many jobs as it does.

“It’s easy to forget the economy lost 5 million jobs in 2009,” he said. “Things are actually pretty good, or at least as ‘good’ as it’s going to get based on these macroeconomic statistics that try to qualify how well the economy with its 324 million people are doing out there.”

Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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