Freelancing has been on the rise for years, but gained a ton of momentum since the pandemic. Between layoffs and the Great Resignation, more and more workers are exploring non-traditional career paths. With flexibility in how, when, and where they work, freelancing is certainly an attractive option, but where exactly is the best place to set up shop?
We turned to the data to understand which markets have a booming self-employment sector. From healthcare to housing, these 12 American cities are a haven for freelancers and independent contractors alike in 2023. Learn the best cities to set up your freelance business next year, based on research from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Tax Foundation, and 8 other sources.
The best cities for freelancers
12. Saginaw, MI
Share of working population in freelancing: 4%
Growth of freelancers 2019-2020: -1%
Saginaw’s relatively affordable health- and childcare round out the top 12. With mid-level insurance policies at just $180 on the average freelancer’s salary and childcare available for around $615 per month for one child, Saginaw is a great place for freelancers and their families to settle. When it’s time to get down to business, freelancers can rent a desk at one of two coworking spaces throughout the small city. There’s also a relatively robust public transit system that makes commuting easy and affordable. The one downside? The average freelancer’s annual earnings here are low at just $38,307, making it hard to afford a house in this market.
11. Wichita, KS
Share of working population in freelancing: 5%
Growth of freelancers 2019-2020: -1%
Wichita offers freelancers an affordable life in an up-and-coming atmosphere. Despite its larger size, transit costs are relatively low at $894 per month. By comparison, a similar population pays over $300 more in Albuquerque, NM. There are also 6 coworking spaces throughout Wichita for freelancers to choose from, averaging at $126 a month. However, those who choose to work from home face high internet fees at around $119 for at least 25 mbps
10. Altoona, PA
Share of working population in freelancing: 4.9%
Growth of freelancers 2019-2020: 0.3%
Home to the oldest roller coaster in the United States, Altoona is not just a great place to have fun, it’s also a great place to start a freelancing business. Despite its small size, Altoona has a free coworking space and average home internet costs. On top of that, the average freelancer’s salary here grew by 2% from 2019 to 2020 and is high enough to cover the price of an average house. With that said, Altoona’s public transportation options and educational offerings are limited.
9. Wheeling, WV
Share of working population in freelancing: 3.4%
Growth of freelancers 2019-2020: -2.3%
Wheeling is a small city home to a robust metro area along the Ohio River. While only 3% of Wheeling’s working population are freelancers, an affordable coworking space is still available for use. Housing is also really attainable here, with the average freelancer’s salary being over and above what’s needed to buy a home. Freelancers can also rest easy in Wheeling with affordable healthcare at just $229 per month on a mid-level insurance plan, although Wheeling does not have a Level I trauma center.
8. Sioux City, IA
Share of working population in freelancing: 5.1%
Growth of freelancers 2019-2020: 0.1%
At the navigational head of the Missouri River, Sioux City is also at the head of freelancing among regional cities. Despite its small size, 5% of the working population are freelancers and they earn an average of $55,100 per year. Sioux City boasts a Level I trauma center, a coworking space, and a public transit system that makes over 600 trips per year. However, a comparatively higher tax burden at 11%, moderately priced healthcare at $390 per month, and decreases from 2019 to 2020 in freelancers’ earnings may lead some to steer clear.
7. Indianapolis, IN
Share of working population in freelancing: 4.7%
Growth of freelancers 2019-2020: 0.5%
The crossroads of America is a great place for freelancers to enjoy urban amenities and entertainment on an affordable budget. With average earnings of $76,279, freelancers in Indianapolis earn almost double the national average and should have no problem finding an affordable home—a rarity in a large, urban center. For those who want a dedicated office, there’s 19 coworking spaces throughout the city, averaging just $136 per month. However, freelancers looking to move with their families may face some challenges. State-funded guaranteed preschool is not available here and childcare for one child costs around $923 per month.
6. Casper, WY
Share of working population in freelancing: 5.5%
Growth of freelancers 2019-2020: 0.8%
With world-class fly fishing and a scenic mountain landscape, Casper offers a different experience for the 5.5% of its population who freelance—but there’s more than meets the eye. Freelancers in this Wyoming city earn an average of $128,129, have access to 2 coworking spaces, and enjoy an extremely affordable housing market. But even with a growing freelancing population and relatively stable earnings growth from 2019-2020, moving to Casper may have some drawbacks. High health insurance costs at $726 per month for a mid-level plan and the lack of a Level I trauma center could be deterring factors. State funded preschool is also not offered here and childcare costs on average $793 per month.
5. Tulsa, OK
Share of working population in freelancing: 6.1%
Growth of freelancers 2019-2020: 0.6%
Rounding out the top 5, Tulsa has attracted an abundance of freelancers, who account for over 6% of the city’s workforce. With average earnings of $74,750 and very affordable housing opportunities, it’s no wonder Tulsa’s a popular choice among freelancers. There are 11 coworking spaces to choose from here, costing just $166 per month on average, and affordable internet plans available for those who prefer to work from home. Tulsa also boasts a well-rated high school, 340th in the nation, state-funded preschool, and affordable childcare at only $593 on average for one child. However, despite its size, Tulsa does not have a Level I trauma center.
4. Tyler, TX
Share of working population in freelancing: 7.3%
Growth of freelancers 2019-2020: -10.2%
Tyler has a large share of freelancers in its workforce and high earnings at $84,513. With a low tax burden, too, freelancers make well above what they need to afford a home in this Texan city. While Tyler has a high-ranking high school, state-funded preschool, and a Level I trauma center, public transportation can be expensive at an average of $929 per month. On top of that, both the share of freelancers and their wages decreased from 2019 to 2020.
3. Parkersburg, WV
Share of working population in freelancing: 4.6%
Growth of freelancers 2019-2020: -1.5%
Located less than a half day’s drive from Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Washington DC, Parkersburg is in the center of the action. Freelancers make up almost 5% of the working population in this small city and earn around $75,484 on average. There are 2 affordable coworking options available and very cheap home internet at just $19.99 for 25+ mbps. However, healthcare costs are comparatively high at $535 per month for a mid-level insurance plan, as are adult care costs at $100 per day.
2. Charleston, WV
Share of working population in freelancing: 4%
Growth of freelancers 2019-2020: -1.9%
Coming in at #2, historical Charleston offers affordable living for its freelancing residents. Making up 4% of the workforce, freelancers make around $51,011 on average—earnings that grew over 8% between 2019 and 2020. Plus, cost of living remains low with affordable housing, healthcare, and childcare available across the city. Charleston also offers good educational opportunities, with state-funded preschools and a high school ranked 812th in the nation.
1. Midland, TX
Share of working population in freelancing: 7.1%
Growth of freelancers 2019-2020: 3%
Nicknamed the “tall city,” Midland’s downtown skyscrapers rise above surrounding plains rich with oil and opportunities for freelancers. With 7.1% of the workforce working for themselves, Midland’s share of freelancers is bigger than that of New York City or Denver—and for good reason. Freelancers here earn a whopping $260,741 on average, yet enjoy an especially low cost of living. Home internet is available at just $19.99 per month and coworking spaces are priced much lower than other large cities. These reasons—plus Midland’s rapidly growing freelancing community—are why we ranked this Texan city the best city for freelancers in America.
Notes on methodology
- Cities (metropolitan statistical areas) in which self-employed non-farm workers made on average less than the national average were excluded.
- Data for non-farm employment and compensation came from the Bureau of Economic Analysis Economic Profiles for 2020 and 2019 for metropolitan statistical areas.
- Data on affordable housing came from the Harvard JCHS National State of Housing.
- Data for healthcare came from the American Trauma Society and Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) calculator for costs of a mid-level plan on the federal or state exchange for a 37-year-old (the average age of a freelancer). Mid-level plans were selected as this is the minimum level to qualify for a subsidy on most exchanges.
- Data for education came from the U.S. News Best High School national rankings and National Institute for Early Education Research Preschool Yearbook for 2021.
- Data on transportation and childcare costs came from the Economic Policy Institute family budgeting calculator.
- Adult day care data came from payingforseniorcare.com.
- Coworking data came from coworker.com.
- Tax burden data came from the Tax Foundation.
- Public transit data came from AllTransit.
With a nation’s worth of options to choose from, freelancers can feel confident calling any number of American cities home. Regardless of where they choose to set up shop, one thing is clear: freelancing is here to stay.