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More professionals strike out on their own

Kai Ryssdal: It's good, it must be said, to be able to relate to you this piece of economic information. The American economy -- the long-stuck, interminably jobless American economy -- may have finally gotten its act together.

This morning, the Labor Department let us know we added 200,000 jobs last month -- 200,000. That's good. The unemployment rate, after a change to the data for November, dropped to 8.5 percent.

But as with all statistics, economic and otherwise, there are some loopholes. That unemployment rate would be even higher if it weren't for all the people who've lost their jobs going out and starting their own businesses. And it raises the real question of what a job is as the economy recovers.

From Washington, Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: Vaughan Gibson lost his job selling houses in 2009, when the real estate market in his hometown of Greensboro, N.C., tanked. The next year, he started his own realty business. It wasn't his first choice. He misses a steady paycheck. In fact, he compares running his business to being in a hurricane.

Vaughan Gibson: And you gotta figure out what's the best way to get in the eye of the storm and then survive and prosper.

Gibson did prosper in 2010, making about $100,000. But last year, he made half that. Still, even with the buffeting they'll take, more and more of the unemployed are becoming entrepreneurs.

Susan Joyce sees that everyday. She runs jobhunt.org. She says employers are extremely picky right now.

Susan Joyce: So people who would have been hired three years ago aren't being hired because they aren't exactly right.

So the unemployed start businesses out of desperation. But Joyce says you have to get excited about your startup or you won't succeed. She should know. Joyce started her business after being laid off -- twice.

Linda Barrington heads Cornell's Labor Institute. She says the very youngest and oldest workers are best at entrepreneurship. The young have the most energy and least to lose. Older workers have savings, and contacts. But, they aren't necessarily making money.

Linda Barrington: You're not paying yourself a salary, you're not paying yourself enough of a salary to cover your personal expenses.

Not exactly the mythical American success story, but better than nothing.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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