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Self-employment as an alternative to unemployment


  • Ellen R. Rissman


Data from the NLSY show that more than a quarter of all younger men experience some period of self- employment. Many of them return to wage work. This paper analyzes a simple model of job search and self- employment where self- employment provides an alternative source of income for unemployed workers. Self- employment is distinct from wage sector employment in two important respects. First, self- employment is a low-income, low- variation alternative to wage work. Second, once a worker enters self-employment, he loses eligibility to receive unemployment insurance benefits—at least until he returns to wage sector employment. The model suggests that flows into self-employment are countercyclical and flows out of self-employment are procyclical. Data from the NLSY for males at least 21 years of age are used to investigate how demographic and economic variables influence the decision to become self- employed. Fixed effects and random effects logit results indicate that young men are more likely to be self-employed when their wage work opportunities are more limited. Specifically, higher local unemployment rates lead workers to self- select into self-employment, as does past unemployment experience. The process is different for Whites and Nonwhites with education being irrelevant for White self- employed workers. In contrast, for Nonwhites higher education reduces the probability of entering self-employment.

Suggested Citation

  • Ellen R. Rissman, 2003. "Self-employment as an alternative to unemployment," Working Paper Series WP-03-34, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedhwp:wp-03-34

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Knut Røed & Jens Fredrik Skogstrøm, 2014. "Unemployment Insurance and Entrepreneurship," LABOUR, CEIS, vol. 28(4), pages 430-448, December.
    2. Poschke, Markus, 2013. "The Decision to Become an Entrepreneur and the Firm Size Distribution: A Unifying Framework for Policy Analysis," IZA Discussion Papers 7757, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. repec:ces:ifodic:v:14:y:2016:i:3:p:19255698 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Marco Cagetti & Mariacristina De Nardi, 2006. "Entrepreneurship, Frictions, and Wealth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(5), pages 835-870, October.
    5. José María Millán & Emilio Congregado & Concepción Román, 2010. "Determinants of Self-Employment Dynamics and their Implications on Entrepreneurial Policy Effectiveness," Lecturas de Economía, Universidad de Antioquia, Departamento de Economía, issue 72, pages 45-76.
    6. Michaelides, Marios & Benus, Jacob, 2012. "Are self-employment training programs effective? Evidence from Project GATE," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(5), pages 695-705.
    7. Ellen R. Rissman, 2007. "Labor market transitions and self-employment," Working Paper Series WP-07-14, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    8. Ellen R. Rissman, 2006. "The self-employment duration of younger men over the business cycle," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q III, pages 14-27.
    9. Markus Poschke, 2013. "‘Entrepreneurs out of necessity’: a snapshot," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 20(7), pages 658-663, May.
    10. Dimova, Ralitza & Gang, Ira N., 2007. "Self-selection and wages during volatile transition," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 612-629, September.
    11. Naude, Wim, 2008. "Entrepreneurship in Economic Development," WIDER Working Paper Series 020, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    12. Emilio Congregado & Vicente Esteve & Antonio A. Golpe, 2012. "Job Creation and the Self-employed Firm Size: evidence from Spain," Working Papers 1202, Department of Applied Economics II, Universidad de Valencia.
    13. Finkelstein Shapiro, Alan, 2014. "Self-employment and business cycle persistence: Does the composition of employment matter for economic recoveries?," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 200-218.
    14. Akyol, Ahmet & Athreya, Kartik, 2011. "Credit and self-employment," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 363-385, March.
    15. Ludo Visschers & Ana Millan & Matthias Kredler, 2014. "Great opportunities or poor alternatives: self-employment, unemployment and paid employment over the business cycle," 2014 Meeting Papers 597, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    16. Jacob Benus & Sheena McConnell & Jeanne Bellotti & Theodore Shen & Kenneth Fortson & Daver Kahvecioglu, "undated". "Growing America Through Entrepreneurship: Findings from the Evaluation of Project GATE," Mathematica Policy Research Reports afeceaeccbf54835ae4f79e73, Mathematica Policy Research.
    17. Michaelides, Marios, 2010. "Race and self-employment: The role of training programs, self-employment background, and access to financing," MPRA Paper 20884, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    18. Román, Concepción & Congregado, Emilio & Millán, José María, 2013. "Start-up incentives: Entrepreneurship policy or active labour market programme?," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 151-175.
    19. repec:eee:jbvent:v:32:y:2017:i:6:p:611-626 is not listed on IDEAS
    20. Kartik Athreya & Ahmet Akyol, 2007. "Unsecured Credit and Self-Employment," 2007 Meeting Papers 49, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    21. Tao Wu, 2004. "Two measures of employment: how different are they?," FRBSF Economic Letter, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue aug27.
    22. Congregado, Emilio & Golpe, Antonio A. & Carmona, Mónica, 2010. "Is it a good policy to promote self-employment for job creation? Evidence from Spain," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 32(6), pages 828-842, November.

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