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Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
Working Paper Series
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.

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Ellen R. Rissman, Self-employment as an alternative to unemployment, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Working Paper Series WP-03-34, 2003.
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Keywords: Self-employed ; Unemployment
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