Inside November’s Job Data: Troubling Trend Persists on Self-Employment

By at 7 December, 2018, 2:29 pm

by Raymond J. Keating-

The latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics wasn’t poor, nor was it robust regarding overall employment growth. It was a respectable month. However, concerns continued regarding self-employment as a measure of entrepreneurship.

The establishment survey pointed to a gain of 155,000 in payrolls. That was down notably from a solid gain in October (+250,000 jobs ADDED.) The unemployment rate remained the same at 3.7 percent.

Meanwhile, the household survey – which better captures startup and small business activity – estimated the jobs gain at a more respectable 233,000. Both the labor force participation rate (62.9 percent) and the employment-population ratio (60.6 percent) remained unchanged in November after each improved in October.

What’s troubling is continued under-performance in terms of a key measure of entrepreneurial activity, that is, self-employment.

Specifically, unincorporated self-employed (seasonally adjusted) came in at 9.643 million in November, which was down for the second consecutive month, and off from 9.793 million in March. It also was down versus a year earlier (9.713 million in November 2017).

Meanwhile, incorporated self-employed data is not seasonally adjusted, so the numbers have to be compared to the same time last year. In November 2018, there were 6.226 million incorporated self-employed, which was up versus 6.021 million in November last year. However, that was the first month since March 2018 where incorporated self-employed was above last year.

Over the longer haul, when combining unincorporated and incorporated self-employed, the totals are still down versus levels registered before the last recession. So, there’s been no growth – in fact, a slight decline – in self-employment for at least a dozen years. That remains deeply troubling for the state of entrepreneurship, and current and future economic growth.


Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

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