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Attitudes toward self employment

© December 2005 Tony Lawrence

You may be familiar with Google Alerts. This is a free service where you tell Google that you'd like to be notified of any new search results that match keywords you enter. I have alerts for a number of subjects, and one of them is "self employment".

Alerts on that subject arrive almost every day, and are usually reports of government programs encouraging or helping people to start small businesses. These come from all over the world, but notably very, very few come from the United States.

Small businesses are the very life blood of the U.S. economy. I was listening to a recent radio show about the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, and the strongest current throughout was the lack of small businesses. The mega-corps can of course roll back into New Orleans whenever they wish, but the Mom and Pop stores and services have a much harder time recovering from disasters like this. But it is these small businesses that are what is important, not the large corporations.

Is there a negative attitude toward self employment in the U.S.? Does the rarity of Google alerts referencing U.S. news on self employment show that?

This might just be a matter of terminology: reports of similar programs in the U.S. may use terms like "small business" rather than "self employment", but even if that is the main reason, I think it points out an attitude that is pro-business but not favorable to self employment. The U.S. seems to be strongly in favor of "business" and "employees", but has negative attitudes toward "self employed".

Government programs to help the unemployed are common in the U.S. and most countries, but the U.S. seems to steer people toward looking for a job rather than looking for income. This report about Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors' Attitudes Toward Self-Employment suggests:

  In vocational rehabilitation, for example, even though self-employment
  is a legitimate option, supervisors may convey or staff may develop the
  attitude that competitive employment in existing jobs is preferred or
  that the use of self-employment as an option is discouraged.

On the other hand, the European Commission's Directorate General Enterprise and Industry conducts a regular survey examining attitudes toward self employment. The results indicate that Europeans are more likely to be afraid of self employment, while Americans have more positive attitudes.

Those are contradictory indications. It may be that the programs of other countries exist and are reported more because those countries realize they need to encourage small business and self employment: perhaps the U.S. has less governmental support because Americans don't need much encouragement to be self employed?

I think there is evidence of both: American government may have bias toward larger corporations, but American workers are less enamored of that environment. The situation seems to be the opposite in the rest of the world, perhaps because non U.S. politicians are more aware of how important small independent businesses are.

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