May Day Labor stats review

For May Day – International Workers Day – I like to pull a little labor data, see what’s going on. 

For what kinds of businesses are people working?

The St Louis Fed reported in March that almost 11% of US workers are self-employed – up 10% since the pandemic.

The US Chamber of Commerce reports that as of March 2023 small businesses – including that 11% self employed, employ 46% of the working population across 33.2 million. The breakdown of that is 80% self-employed and 20% are employer businesses [more than 1 person]. The lions share of the employer businesses are small, like 6-12 people.

Self-employed gig economy workers [think: Uber driver]. McKinsey estimates 14 Million, or 8.5% of workers are ~only~ gig workers. Honestly the data is pretty confusing since it doesn’t cross-reference the SBA or Fed or CoC so, I am roughly estimating that, of the 11% of self-employed folks, that half are gig-only workers. Please give me better data if you have it!

On wards – of the rest of the US’s workers about 40% work for large businesses – ones that hire more than 500 people – of which there are 21k according to the SBA. Finally, about 14% work for the public sector: for a state or city institution, or the federal government.

Why the size of an organization matters

I am thinking about May Day and its history related to workers demanding livable working conditions – and about how today, there’s new opportunities and challenges to creating fair workplaces due to the shifting size and scope of how we work.

This is like 5 dissertations worth of research, so I want to focus in on one aspect: creating a viable work experience.

If you are one of the 54% of people who work for a large organization, sometimes you have to force management to ensure your workload is manageable, get a raise or ensure your pay is fair, or to be able to take time off and return to your job.

But If you’re one of the other people who work for yourself, or the 35% of people who work for someone else in a very small firm, you might either directly control how much you’re paid, or are very close to the deciders, and the revenue generating conditions that determine your pay.

Small businesses: do we agitate or self-determine?

  • In smaller companies, agitating management is a direct negotiation – or, in the best case, you are self-managed and you and your colleagues can make the decisions that other people have to go on strike about.
  • In small firms, there’s an opportunity to determine this stuff – together. Cooperative models, horizontal/democratic organizations are ones in which workers have direct say in the conditions of their work.
  • Small business entrepreneurship is booming, between 2021 – 2022 almost 10 million new businesses were registered in the US, according the the Chamber of Commerce 

Troubling these numbers

For context, there’s about 165 million people [traceably] working in the US, and this number doesn’t include people employed or self-employed in the unreported cash economy market as say restaraunt workers, drug dealers, in unreported sex industry jobs, etc.

There’s also WAY more we can say about how unions them selves, even when they are present, may contribute to rather than disrupt individual workers’ alienation, given that unions themselves have layers of management and can get in the way of direct self-determination for workers.

Finally, we probably don’t want a world that’s ONLY direct-democratic small guilds and micro-businesses — economies of scale can enable great things; think systemic health care solutions or education standards, so there will continue to be a critical role for delegated worker representation.


  • The St Louis Fed reports that self-employed workers have increased since the pandemic, from 10% to almost 11% of the 157 million person US working population.
  • The US Chamber of Commerce reports that small businesses – including self employed, employ 46% of the working population, across 33.2 million businesses as of March 2023
    • Small business is booming: In 2022 over 5 million new businesses were registered – this doesn’t even account for everyone who started freelancing – and in 2022, almost as many again opened up. 
    • Terms matter: “small business” is defined as any business that employs under 500 people, including our solo self-employed folks; obviously there’s a huge range in there. – 
  • The SBA [small business administration] has good data, and they separate out “employer firms” from “nonemployer firms”- eg solo self-employed and other non-employing categories [real estate LLCs come to mind]. 27.1 million firms are non-employer.
    • For employer firms, small firms average 6-12 employees [depending on how new they are].
    • The survival rate for new business was 80% through at least 2 years before the pandemic shutdowns, and we don’t have new data.
    • large businesses are ones that hire more than 500 people, of which there are 21k by EOY 2022, according to the SBA.
  • McKisney’s modeling indicates that 36% of all workers are independent workers; within this, 8% of all workers are gig-only [think: Uber drivers]. which trends higher for those with less education 
  • 18.8M people work for federal, state, and local governments [Statista] as of 2021 – bureaucrats and gov’t agency workers, as well as firefighters, teachers, postal workers, et al.