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January/February 1996, Vol. 119, Nos. 1 & 2
John E. Bregger
Data on self-employed in the United States are regularly collected as part of the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) of the U.S. labor force. The CPS began in 1940, and data have been available essentially consistently since1948. The survey came into being as a basis for determining how many people were unemployed at a time when the United States was still suffering the effect of the Great Depression of the 1930's.1
The CPS classifies employment in three principal ways: according to industry, for which a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system is used; according to occupation, for which a Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system is utilized; and according to class of worker. Self-employment is identified under this third schema, in which delineations are made among wage and salary employment, self-employment and unpaid family work. Subdistinctions are also possible, such as private and government within wage and salary employment and employer and own account with self-employment. With regard to the latter, the United States only partially follows the most recent standards set by the International Labor Organization (ICSE-93).2
This article describes the measurement of self-employment over the course of the post-World War II era; the changes that have occurred over time in the measurement, including those modifications associated with the revamping of the entire labor force questionnaire beginning in 1994; and some additional questions that elicit information on that extent to which the self-employed hire wage and salary workers, added in January 1995.3 The article also includes a short analysis of trends in self-employment, covering the entire period from 1948 to the present.
This excerpt is from an article published in the January/February 1996 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 For a history of the CPS, see John E. Bregger, "the Current Population Survey: a historical perspective and BLS's role," monthly Labor Review, June 1984, pp. 8-14
2 International Labor Organization , Bureau of Statistics, newsletter no. 5, September 1993
3 Earlier Monthly Labor Review articles describing self-employment in the United States include John E. Bregger, "Self-employment in the United States, 1948-52," January 1963, pp. 37-43; Robert N. Ray, "A report on self-employed Americans in 1973," January 1975, pp. 49-54; T. Scott Fain, "Self-employed Americans: their number has increased," November 1980, pp. 3-8; and Eugene H. Becker, "Self-employed workers: an update to 1983," July 1984, pp. 14-18.
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