The rise of remote work, mass layoffs, and inflation pushed many professionals to seek either independent or freelance work to make ends meet. The number of independent workers, those who perform full-time freelance work, or a side hustle, for example, has sharply increased to more than a third of the U.S. workforce since 2020, a McKinsey & Company analysis reports.
Feats compiled Bureau of Labor Statistics wage data on full-time employees across 10 jobs to identify how much a freelancer would have to earn to match what they would make as a traditional full-time employee. The types of work are ordered from lowest to highest median wages. BLS calculates annual wages by multiplying an hourly wage by 2,080 hours, the equivalent of a full-time job, so some occupations that typically work more or less than 40 hours per week may be off from actual values.
But it's important to note an hourly rate for a freelancer is not directly comparable to a salary for a full-time job—or even a part-time position on a business payroll. Freelancers may need to earn more money to cover costs others pay on behalf of payroll employees.
Full-time and some part-time jobs usually include benefits. A full-time freelancer must find ways to pay those costs on their own, including health insurance, which can be purchased independently, through professional trade associations, or provided through a spouse or domestic partner's job.
Taxes are also a bit different, but make no mistake: Income earned by freelancing is taxable and must be reported to the IRS and state tax authorities.
Payments for freelance work do not usually withhold taxes. But those earnings are not exempt from the federal employment tax of 15.3%, which funds Social Security and Medicare. For employees on payrolls, employers split that cost 50-50 with workers, in addition to withholding estimated taxes due based on the worker's income.
Self-employed people must pay the total amount, though a self-employment tax credit is available to help cover the cost. Any state taxes that would be paid or withheld by employers must also be handled individually by a self-employed freelancer.
So freelancers, and employers of freelancers, should ensure their actual hourly rates include all a freelancer's overhead costs and provide the money they need to live.
- Hourly median wage: $18.73
- Annual median wage: $38,950
Photographers capture moments in time with images using either a digital or film camera. There are over 9,000 photographers in the U.S. who work as freelancers.
Many choose several specialties, such as wedding, food, portrait, fashion, or travel photography. Other photographers work as photojournalists, typically freelance or for an agency or media outlet in print, online, or broadcast news. Photographers may work in studios or travel for specific shoots to indoor or outdoor locations.
While the pay for photographers is not at the top of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' salary list, "[e]mployment of photographers is projected to grow 9% from 2021 to 2031, [or 12,700 openings], faster than the average for all occupations," the agency reports. However, the BLS points out that part of that growth stems from photographers leaving the field for other jobs or retiring.
- Hourly median wage: $21.12
- Annual median wage: $43,940
Proofreaders and copy markers "[r]ead transcript or proof type setup to detect and mark for correction any grammatical, typographical, or compositional errors," according to the BLS. Many freelance proofreaders and copy markers work for agencies and companies that publish content and publications. However, many proofreaders work for individual clients, including researchers, academics, and students.
Full-time work in this sector comes with competitive wages and robust benefits, but those jobs are scarce. Most opportunities are temporary or part-time jobs. As a freelance proofreader or copy marker, it's best to have several clients, or a steady contract with one or two, so income does not dry up.
- Hourly median wage: $24.38
- Annual median wage: $50,710
Graphic designers "create visual concepts, using computer software or by hand, to communicate ideas that inspire, inform, and captivate consumers," according to the BLS. Most freelance graphic designers charge clients by the project rather than on an hourly basis so they get paid for the value of their work, not necessarily for their time.
Like other freelancers who work in a studio or office, many need to figure out their overhead costs and decide if they need to hire other freelancers to help with large projects when considering how much to charge for their work.
Many graphic design jobs are part-time and remote, often requiring a degree in graphic arts, design, communications, or a related field. Depending on the project or opportunity, graphic designers should have a good eye for detail and know how to use graphic design software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.
- Hourly median wage: $29.02
- Annual median wage: $60,360
Television, video, and film camera operators "manipulate images that entertain or inform an audience," according to the BLS. "Editors arrange footage shot by camera operators and collaborate with producers and directors to create the final content." Job openings for these fields should increase by 12% by 2031, higher than the average rate for all jobs. Whether it's a freelance role or not, these jobs may require holiday and weekend commitments.
Many freelance camera operators work for news organizations on a contract basis, per project, or for entertainment companies. Video editors have many projects to choose from, such as film, news, social media, or podcast editing. They usually work on a part-time, contract basis. Some editing may be done remotely or at a client's production studio. Some video clients look for part-time freelance subcontractors to help serve their clients.
- Hourly median wage: $30.46
- Annual median wage: $63,350
"Editors plan, review, and revise [written] content for publication," according to BLS, and may work in an office or remotely. Some of the work is performed on an as-needed basis with an hourly rate, while other jobs are indefinitely part-time or per contract.
Editors work with writers and other editors to produce publishable work. Many editors fact-check, correct grammar mistakes, follow writing style guidelines, and offer general feedback on writers' work.
Most freelance editors work remotely and have several clients, unless they work on a large, long-term project that takes up most of their working week. Although many companies look to freelancers for written publication material, BLS expects the number of editors' jobs to decline by 5% by 2031.
- Hourly median wage: $30.73
- Annual median wage: $63,920
Market research analysts and marketing specialists may work on many tasks and responsibilities for clients, such as small or large agencies. According to the BLS, these workers conduct research, including online, to "determine potential sales of a product or service, or plan a marketing or advertising campaign."
They may also seek information on competitors, prices, sales, and methods of marketing and distribution. Then the analysts and specialists prepare a report for a company's decision-makers. These workers often take on specific projects or are contracted to work on several over time.
- Hourly median wage: $33.42
- Annual median wage: $69,510
Many freelance writers and authors choose to write about specific nonfiction topics, such as education, fashion, health, science and technology, politics, or finance, for one or two clients. Other freelancers opt to write on several different topics and for a diverse set of clients. Freelance writers and authors often publish for agencies, nonprofits, news organizations, or those with professional blog posts.
Freelance writers and authors are either paid by the word, hourly, or per project.
The BLS estimates that jobs for writers and authors will increase by 4% by 2031, the average compared to other professions. However, a freelance writer or author may need a portfolio to get hired, in addition to the traditional qualifications of a bachelor's degree in English, communications, or journalism.
- Hourly median wage: $37.03
- Annual median wage: $77,030
The BLS notes that web developers create and maintain websites. If a prospective freelancer wants to start on a few web or app projects, many universities or colleges offer short sessions through a professional education program to learn how to become a website developer.
Freelance web developers should expect to work remotely or in a hybrid work environment that requires working with a client's employees and vendors on a per-project basis.
- Hourly median wage: $37.14
- Annual median wage: $77,250
Many businesses and individuals rely on accountants and auditors to help file their taxes to the IRS or review the health of their finances. They complete accounting, bookkeeping, payroll services, and budget analyses.
The BLS projects that accountant and auditor jobs will grow by 6% over the next 10 years, although freelance accountants and auditors only make up 4% of the profession. The BLS also points out that earning a bachelor's degree in accounting or a similar field, plus becoming a certified public accountant, or CPA, improves the likelihood of getting hired as an accountant or auditor.
- Hourly median wage: $38.41
- Annual median wage: $79,890
People use the internet on all sorts of platforms, and most often smartphones or other mobile devices, according to Statista and Kepios. But large shares also use laptop and desktop computers, tablets, and even smart televisions. Those platforms require functional interfaces for users to get what they're looking for, and web and digital interface designers plan, create, and maintain those systems.
Since the early 2000s, responsive web design—the ability to design and program an online service to adapt its displays and controls to the user's device—has been vital. As demand for native mobile apps has grown, specialized design opportunities have increased as well.
Most freelance web and digital interface design work is remote, either full-time or part-time. A freelancer must collaborate with other designers and clients, be organized, and understand web or app design standards, corporate specifications, and critical factors in user experiences of websites and services.
This story originally appeared on Feats and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
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