It's a product of economic downturns - companies shedding workers, employees becoming self-employed.
As the recession forces more businesses to save on the expense of workers and their benefits, more of those workers are piecing together their workweeks with contract jobs, often from the companies that fired them.
The shift can be found in most every industry, from manufacturing to technology to communications. There's even a label for it now: "homeshoring" - U.S. companies turning to U.S. freelancers to get work done.
Are we moving toward a project-to-project workforce?
"The economic meltdown is marking this trend," says Sara Horowitz, the founder of the 65,000-member Freelancers Union, based in New York. "This is the future. It is here."
With that future comes questions, she says. Freelancers have little in the way of safety nets. They often face higher health care costs. They receive no unemployment benefits when they get laid off.
Horowitz and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this month they will seek a new federal unemployment benefit for freelancers that includes a government-matched fund that freelancers could contribute toward. That fund could be drawn upon by individuals when work is scarce.
Horowitz says such a fund is more necessary than ever, given the increasing number of freelancers and the dire economic circumstances many confront.
"I think we're really going to start having a discussion about how we employ people," she says.
Charles Bamford isn't so sure. An author, consultant and associate professor at Queens University of Charlotte, he thinks he's seen this job cycle before.
"In the 1981-82-83 recession, as people got laid off, many of them turned toward starting their own businesses," he says. "A lot of businesses would lay people off and hire them for 20 hours."
Just like today.
"Oh yeah," Bamford says. "The moment the jobs economy turns up and they can get a full-time job, they're gone. They are no more of an entrepreneur than people who work in a bank."
But will businesses be hiring again like they were before - or will the cost savings of freelancers be too difficult to ignore?
"I think companies are going to turn on a dime when the economy changes," he says. "All you get with contractors is their time, their processes. With full-timers, you get a history and you get a development in which workers want to innovate for the company because it's their company.
"All you're getting with freelancers is their hands and minds in that one moment, that one task. They are only going to give you what you pay them to do. A lot of companies recognize this. They understand that nuance."
Perhaps the future holds something between. Will companies want that full-time energy and commitment from a select number of administrative and creative positions, but be more willing to pay contract workers for task-oriented jobs?
Tell us if your profession - or your job - has become part of the freelance economy.