About 15 years ago, in between contemplating being a meteorologist and a fire fighter and a whale watcher, I told someone I wanted to be a "freelance writer." I wasn't even quite sure what that was, but I knew at least a few things about it: It was creative work; I could write for a living; I could build my own hours; and I could build my own life. I'm pretty sure they laughed, and then we both went back to work delivering cold Shepherd's Pie.

Now, freelancers are becoming the norm, as more and more people shift out of the 9-5 desk job in favor of a contract-to-contract at-home gig. According to a new report by Freelancers Union and Elance-O Desk, 53 million Americans, or 34 percent of the U.S. workforce, are working in some capacity as freelancers. The survey defines freelancers as "individuals who have engaged in supplemental, temporary, or project- or contract-based work in the past 12 months."

Of course, part of the reason freelancers have become the newest, growing workforce is because the economy tanked. Unemployment rose during the recent recession, peaking at about 10 percent in 2009. There simply weren't enough jobs to be had. As job insecurity reached a fevered pitch, people were forced to diversify their income portfolio by adding contract gigs or after-hours work.

The flip side of that freelance coin, though, is that nearly 8 in 10 freelancers report making the same amount of money than they did before they started freelancing. And 42 percent say they make more than before.

The increase in money and freedom could by why freelancers report being so happy with their jobs. In quite the timely study-release fashion, Minneapolis-based Field Nation, a company that connects organizations with independent contractors, released a survey earlier this month revealing that 97 percent of respondents report being satisfied or extremely satisfied with their jobs as independent contractors.

While those numbers may be slightly skewed, based on 846 total respondents, they're in stark contrast to how the rest of the country rates job satisfaction. Fewer than half of American workers report being satisfied with their jobs.

Companies are noticing the benefits freelancing provides, too. According to Workforce 2020, a global study released last week by Oxford Economics, 83 percent of executives say they will be increasing the use of contingent, intermittent, or consultant employees to accommodate resource gaps and rapidly changing business demands.

Does that mean you should quit your job and start freelancing? Maybe not just yet. For one thing, the competition is fierce. In the age of new entrepreneurship, the number of freelancers is likely to reach more than 70 million, or more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce, by 2020.

Employers should take note, however. If you want to attract and hold on to full-time talent, compensation is what matters most, according to Workforce 2020 findings. Retirement plans, flexibility, and time-off rank way higher than amenities such as fitness centers, daycare, and subsidized food. In other words, the ability to live like a freelancer matters.