What Is the Average Annual Income for a Freelancer in the U.S.?

Man using a cellphone and drinking coffee

PeopleImages/Getty Images

The freelance workforce is here to stay. In late October, Upwork and Freelancers Union released their annual "Freelancing in America" report; a comprehensive look at the independent U.S. workforce. The results of their fifth annual report were encouraging. Here are their key findings:

  • More than one in three (35 percent) Americans freelanced in 2018, amounting to 56.7 million independent employees.
  • The freelance market grew 7 percent from 2017 compared to the non-freelance market, which rose 2 percent.
  • More than half (51 percent) of freelancers say no amount of money would get them to take a traditional job.

Let's talk about the money. While it's true that freelance rates can vary drastically depending on industry and type, i.e., whether you a full-timer or your freelance as a side hustle. That said, a separate study by Payoneer found that the average freelancer in the U.S. earns $31 an hour compared to $26.30 an hour for all American employees in 2017.

And as you're about to learn, freelance rates can be much higher than the national average depending on the discipline you choose. If you're ready to step into a full-time freelance role, the chart below compares the average hourly rate, the average annual income, and the average weekly hours worldwide in nine popular freelance niches.

IT and Programming

  • Average hourly rate: $49
  • Average annual income (U.S.): $68,292
  • Weekly hours worked (worldwide): 37.4

This freelance segment includes a broad range of job titles and roles, such as IT Support, Mobile Programming, Web Programming, Database Programming, Game Programming, and Developer QA Testing. Freelance rates are generally higher in tech, and you can charge more depending on your specialties and the average skill value in your area. Search for online postings with Toptal, a freelance staffing service that focuses on tech positions.

Design and Multimedia

  • Average hourly rate: $41
  • Average annual income: $56,101
  • Weekly hours worked (worldwide): 36.5

Graphic Designers, Web Designers, Illustrators, and Multimedia Producers all belong in this category, and you'll have luck finding freelance opportunities on Behance, which has hundreds of active design listings.

Writing and Translation

  • Average hourly rate: $48 and $47
  • Average annual income: $61,419 and $59,545
  • Weekly hours worked (worldwide): 34

Writers cover a diverse group of topics, and some earn more than others. Technical writers, for example, are likely to earn more than basic copywriters because they usually have firsthand experience with the subject matter.

Even so, it's possible to earn far beyond the average freelance rates. Consider joining the Editorial Freelancer's Association for full immersion into the freelance writing culture (including the latest job opportunities) and visit sites like ZipRecruiter and FreelanceWriting.com for active listings.

Sales and Marketing

  • Average hourly rate: $44
  • Average annual income: $61,572
  • Weekly hours worked (worldwide): 37

If you're adept at social media, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and media buying, you'll find steady gigs within the sales and marketing niche. Search the LinkedIn Jobs section for remote listings.

Engineering and Manufacturing

  • Average hourly rate: $56
  • Average annual income: $79,867
  • Weekly hours worked (worldwide): 38.2

Seasoned hardware engineers, product designers, and software pros can live comfortably in the freelance world, and technical recruiters are always looking for qualified virtual staff. Update your LinkedIn profile to make sure that recruiters know you're available for freelance work, and search for open positions in the FlexJobs Engineering section.

Finance and Management

  • Average hourly rate: $49
  • Average annual income: $71,879
  • Weekly hours worked (worldwide): 39

Financial analysts and financial planners do well in the freelance world thanks to clients who need ongoing support. Search for open jobs with Freelancer or contact the Financial Planning Association to learn more about remote opportunities in your area.

Legal Services

  • Average hourly rate: $60
  • Average annual income: $75,488
  • Weekly hours worked (worldwide): 33.6

Lawyers who specialize in consulting, contracts, fraud analysis, tax law, and paralegal services will have no trouble finding work with competitive freelance rates. Upwork and Glassdoor have open positions.

Administrative and Customer Support

  • Average hourly rate: $29
  • Average annual income: $41,639
  • Weekly hours worked (worldwide): 38.2

Every company relies on administrative support to function, including assistants, data entry clerks, and customer service staff. Good news: all of these jobs can be done from home. Check out FlexJobs' open positions (you can view their job boards for free) and VirtualVocations.

Where to Find Freelance Jobs

Online recruitment has opened a world of opportunity for freelancers, and the majority (73 percent) find their work online, according to the Payoneer study. Based on their findings, freelancers also land work using the following methods:

  • Word-of-mouth referrals: 33%
  • Social media platforms (Twitter, Google+, Instagram): 15%
  • Linkedin and professional networking sites: 14%
  • Professional Facebook page: 9%
  • Recruitment firms: 7%
  • Other: 7%

The bottom line: "Average" is a subjective term, and the scalable freelance workforce provides unlimited flexibility and income potential. Consider your strengths to pursue freelancing efficiently: one client at time.

Methodology: The average annual incomes of listed freelance positions are based on data collected by ZipRecruiter. The average weekly hours worked by freelancers are based on data from Payoneer's global study.

The average hourly rate for American freelancers was calculated by multiplying the average number of U.S. workweeks per year (37.4) by the number of hours worked per week in each freelance segment. The product was divided into the average annual salary in each freelance segment. The hourly rates provided were rounded to the nearest whole number.