Microbusiness: Creating a Life That's More Than 'a Living'

I recently read about an unemployed, single mother who completed a two-week training course to become a certified nursing aide, an occupation listed as the "fastest-growing job in America." The woman was hopeful that the certification will allow her to now make a living.

Ideally, the certification will bring employment opportunities, but, very likely, her job options will be slightly-more-than minimum wage, if at all, and won't net enough income to allow her to move from a home that has sporadic electricity, and no running water.

Despite the Bureau of Labor Statistics report of May 2014 job gains, the nation's unemployment rate held steady at 6.3 percent, which is compounded by new research findings that re-employment of the long-term unemployed is not necessarily indicative of a fresh start: many jobs pay significantly less than previous positions, are not steady, full-time, or permanent.

We support job training as a means to re-employ individuals (for those for whom training is accessible, affordable and feasible). However, we point to entrepreneurship as a more promising option to escape the bonds of unemployment. Entrepreneurship, microbusiness in particular, continues to appeal to millions of persons whom the labor market no longer serves.

Scores of unemployed persons have turned to entrepreneurship as a survival tactic, and created a job, or jobs, in the process. In 2011, when Lasenta Lewis-Ellis was downsized from her near-$100,000-per-year job earning more than $1,600 weekly, she attempted to help her husband care for their family of eight with her $270 weekly unemployment benefits. That plan failed, as did her employment search -- having a master's degree and being a doctoral candidate didn't facilitate her search.

At a point Lasenta decided she wanted more, so she mustered up a measure of confidence, cashed out her 401K account and used $1,500 to start LLE Construction Group, LLC.

In its first year, LLE grossed $303,000, after being in business only five months in 2011. In 2012 the business grossed $685,000, and in 2013 the company grossed $1.1 million. To date, company revenues have increased by more than 263 percent.

Lasenta's is a great success story, but not uncommon. AEO report data show microbusinesses, although small, in the aggregate, have a significant influence on job creation by contributing to the employment of 41.3 million individuals -- this represents 31 percent of private sector employment. Lasenta hired her son to work for the company, and is training him to take over the business. She hires other employees seasonally and contractually.

Microbusinesses create plethora economic impacts, and create gains for families that cut across racial, ethnic, and gender lines. These enterprises are a practical option for persons of color (like Lasenta), unemployed persons (like Lasenta), and persons in the 50+ age group to attain self-sufficiency amidst a mercurial labor market, and as long-term job stability becomes more elusive.

Entrepreneurship allows individuals to escape poverty by giving them a vantage point of the economy other than "from the bottom up" -- we should champion it as a means for individuals to realize self-sufficiency and financial autonomy, and to make more than just a living.