The fifth major economic indicator examined in The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010 was changes in the self-employment rate. In 2010, the self-employment rate of the population 16 years and older in New York State stood at 5.6%, which was the same as the rate in the U.S. The U.S. Census tracks self-employment rates of the population that are incorporated and those that are non-incorporated. This study focused on the non-incorporated because the data was available going back to 1970.
In this report we aggregated the data of the 61 Adirondack Park Towns that are 100% within the Blue Line in order to compare Adirondack communities with other areas in the U.S. The purpose was to see if Adirondack communities stood out in any way from other places by studying trends of leading economic and population indicators from 1970 to 2010. In 2010, the 61 Park Towns had just over 100,000 residents, 77.4% of the Park’s estimated population of 130,000.
An analysis of self-employment rate trends was useful for evaluating differences between regions, especially when analyzed with a range of other economic indicators, such as such as median household income, per capita income, poverty rates and employment. The two tables below show the change in self-employment rates across New York, the U.S., and Rural America over a 40-year time frame.
Self-employment as a percent of the total population 16 years and older is an important indicator for assessing the economic vitality of a region because it shows the number of residents who are not only actively employed and working, but who have developed their own businesses or means of employment. From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns and Split Towns experienced significant gains in their self-employment rates as compared with all other regions. The Park Towns saw an increase of 52.1%, growing from 4.4% of the working population in 1970 to 6.7% in 2010, and the Split Towns (those around the Park’s boundary that are split by the Blue Line) grew by 19%. Self-employment rates in New York State grew by 64.5% and the U.S. saw an increase of 32.8%.
How did the Park Towns’ 52% growth in its self-employment rate of people 16 years and older from 1970 to 2010 compare with other areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ growth in its self-employment rate was higher than that of 74% of the towns, boroughs and cities in New York State, areas with 28% of the state’s population. The Park Towns had a higher growth than that of 89% of U.S. counties, areas with 57% of the U.S. population.
How did the Park Towns’ 52% growth in its self-employment rate from 1970 to 2010 compare with other rural areas? From 1970 to 2010, the Park Towns’ growth in its self-employment rate was higher than that of 95% of Rural America counties, areas with over 92% of the population of Rural America. Closer to home, the Park Towns had a higher growth in its self-employment rate than that of 70% of rural counties in the Northeast U.S., areas with 67% of the population of the Rural Northeast.
The self-employment rate among the population 16 years or older is an important metric when studying Rural America. Historically, the rates of self-employment have always been higher in rural areas than in metropolitan areas. The small family farm economy, and the chain of small businesses that supported it, historically dominated rural areas. In 1970, the big boxes had not yet shown up in rural areas and many independent hardware stores, grocery stores, and gas stations existed. A lot changed by 2010. The two major rural areas studied in this report both experienced declines in their self-employment rates from 1970 to 2010. The 1,941 rural USDA counties saw their self-employment rate fall from 7.1% to 5.9%, a 17% decrease. The 1,333 rural counties with a population density similar to Adirondack communities saw their rate of self-employment drop by 27.1%, from 9.2% to 6.7%. These are ominous trends for Rural America where the self-employment has been the backbone of the economy for decades.
In 2010, the Park Towns’ self-employment rate of people 16 years or older stood at 6.7%. In 2010, the Park Towns’ self-employment rate was higher than that of 61% of the towns, boroughs and cities in New York, areas with 76% of the state’s population. It was higher than that of 67% of U.S. counties, home to 79% of the U.S. population.
In 2010, the 61 Park Towns had a higher self-employment rate than that of 58% of the counties in Rural America, home to 73% of the Rural America population. Closer to home, the Park Towns had a higher self-employment rate than that of 59% of the rural counties in the Northeast U.S., home to 62% of the rural population in the northeast. It’s worth noting that the Rural Northeast counties had high growth in their self-employment rates of 38.7% and 36.5% respectively.
One of the main purposes of The Adirondack Park and Rural America report was to see if the economic and population experiences of Adirondack communities was fundamentally different than that of other areas in the U.S., especially rural areas, during the last four decades. The Adirondacks and the Rural Northeast U.S. stand out from other rural areas in terms of self-employment. The positive self-employment trend in the Adirondacks is something to investigate and possibly develop programs to strengthen. Are their opportunities to build greater support for those who are interested in becoming self-employed? Is there a way to use some kind of support system for self-employment as a population recruitment strategy?
A positive self-employment rate trend in the Adirondacks is consistent with its overall employment rate trends. While self-employment rates dropped in many other rural areas from 1970 to 2010, the Adirondack communities experienced a significant increase. The Park Towns’ self-employment rate in 2010 was higher than the areas with the majority of the population of New York State (76%), the U.S. (79%), and Rural America (73%).
The next articles in this series begin a deep dive into population trends.