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United States of Work

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Theater director Stephanie Silverman, hair stylist Ashley Nelson and physician Scott Anzalone. Arlie Sommer, Amiee Stubbs and Cassidy Brauner

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What do a hairstylist, a small-town doctor and the executive director of an independent movie theater have in common? They’re all essentially the CEOs of the businesses they run, however small those businesses may be. 

We met these three quasi-CEOs while reporting “United States of Work.” It’s a series of interviews aimed at understanding the nearly 164 million people in the American labor force. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data to guide us, we identified 10 real people who, taken together, roughly match the characteristics of the labor force as a whole and asked how the economy is working for them.

As different as the jobs and lives of the 10 people in our reimagining of the labor force are, we noticed that three of them have at least one thing in common— they’re all running businesses. 

Stephanie Silverman, Executive Director of the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, Tennessee. (Amiee Stubbs/Marketplace)

At the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, Tennessee, Stephanie Silverman thinks a lot about fundraising, programming and what the growth of Nashville’s economy means for the independent movie theater business. 

“Nashville is experiencing unbelievable growth,” she said. “That’s been wonderful on one hand because it’s allowed for the growth of the Belcourt and for our great, growing audience numbers, but then it comes with all these adjacent challenges— most importantly right now is affordable housing for the people that work in the theater.”

Providing an affordable lifestyle for employees is one of the things that Dr. Scott Anzalone, an independent medical physician in Logan, Ohio, said he worries about, too. 

Dr. Scott Anzalone at his independent medical practice, Stagecoach Family Medicine, in Logan, Ohio. (Cassidy Brauner/Marketplace)

“The biggest part of my business that’s difficult is offering employees competing salaries,” he said. “When everybody’s employed by large [health care] systems, they can offer huge benefits, and all the perks and pluses of being employed, and I can’t.” 

Despite its challenges, being independent has benefits. “Because I am the ‘boss,’ if you will, I have flexibility with my time some, I also have the ability to treat my patients the way I feel they should be treated, not the way a corporation tells me to treat them,” Anzalone said.

Ashley Nelson dyes, cuts and styles the hair of real estate agent, Dawn Templeton, at Collab Salon in Boise, ID. (Arlie Sommer/Marketplace)

Meanwhile, in Boise, Idaho, Ashley Nelson runs a business of one. As a hairstylist, she’s an independent contractor who’s responsible for scheduling her clients, buying supplies, managing her costs, pricing her services and keeping the books. “That’s the part that I don’t think people realize,” she said. “If you’re really good artistically and really good with people but you suck at that, you’re going to fail.”

You can meet the other seven people in our 10-person reimagining of the U.S. labor force and read about how we chose them here.

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