Going it alone

According to data released late last year by the US Census Bureau, “nonemployer businesses”—mostly consisting of just one person, working full or part-time— have been on the rise, at least up until the economic crash of 2008. There were 21.7 million such businesses in 2007, and they were especially common in Florida, Texas, the Rocky Mountain region, and northern New England. The map below shows the number of such establishments for every 10,000 adults over the age of 24 (when most people have finished their educations). They were rarest in a swath of the Rust Belt, where manufacturing jobs are still common, and in Virginia.

Massachusetts was almost exactly in the middle, coming in at 26th overall. But our rank changed dramatically depending on specific professions, with the Bay State placing at or near the top in several “creative class” fields. Our singularity was illustrated by the fact that Massachusetts was one of only two states where the leading self-employment sector (in terms of total revenue) was neither construction nor real estate. In Alaska, the top profession for those going it alone was “hunting and fishing”; here, it was “professional and technical services.”

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The data indicated that, adjusted for population, Massachusetts had the country’s greatest concentration of self-employed physicians and legal services workers. We were second in “educational services” and mental health practitioners (with Vermont coming in first in both cases). We were fifth in “architectural, engineering, and related services,” sixth in computer design services, and eighth in “arts, entertainment, and recreation” (with Vermont on top yet again).

The flip side to our freelance scene? We finished 45th in beauty salon proprietors, 46th in real estate services, 48th in “repair and maintenance” (including auto repairs, a major sector elsewhere), 49th in the trucking industry, and 50th in “retail trade” (which includes everything from door-to-door salesmen to people selling tchotchkes on websites).