Keeping Tabs on America's Moonlighters

Photograph by Mikael Andersson/Corbis

Freelancers in the U.S. number somewhere between 17 million and 42 million, depending on whom you ask and which kinds they include in their figures. Does a teacher who sells Avon products on the weekend count? What about a retiree with an Etsy account? Whether or not those workers are defined as freelancers, they almost certainly fit another important category: part-timer. According to research published by the Internet Association yesterday, part-time business owners generated $156 billion in sales in 2011. They also paid out $904 million in wages.

To conduct the study, researchers surveyed more than 10,000 part-time business owners and painted a pretty nuanced picture: 73 percent had other sources of income, and 47 percent had full-time jobs. The most popular fields were “collectors, crafts, technical consultants, and music,” in that order. Less than half had college degrees.

What’s less interesting is the survey’s headline finding: 90 percent of part-time businesses “rely on the Internet a lot or a little.” The Internet Association is a public policy group that counts EBay, Yahoo, and other tech giants as members, so it’s not surprising it focused on how the Internet is helping part-timers.

There’s little question, either, that the Internet has been a boost: On average, survey respondents collected 51 percent of revenue online. Using social media or e-mail for business was enough to meet the threshold for reliance, says Michele Salomon of Harris Interactive, which conducted the research. For that matter, it’s a wonder the survey turned up 10 percent of part-time business owner that don’t rely on the Internet at all.