Bureau of Labor Statistics

Small-business options: Occupational outlook for self-employed workers

| May 2018

Before starting a business, you may want to research which occupations are expected to have strong growth for self-employed workers. And a good place to begin is with projections data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).   

BLS counts self-employment in different ways. By one count, there were about 9.6 million self-employed workers in 2016—and BLS projects this number to increase to 10.3 million by 2026. That’s a 7.9-percent growth rate, slightly faster than the 7.4-percent rate projected for all workers.

This article highlights selected occupations that are projected to have many jobs for, or high concentrations of, self-employed workers. It compares self-employment rates for those selected occupations with the percentage of all workers projected to be self-employed in 2026.

Many new jobs

Projected growth in self-employment varies by occupational group. BLS projects service occupations, such as those in personal care and in cleaning and maintenance, to have many new jobs for self-employed workers from 2016 to 2026. (See chart 1.)

View Chart Data

Chart 1. New jobs for self-employed workers, projected 2016–26, by selected occupational group
Occupational group New jobs for self-employed workers, projected 2016−26 Self-employment, projected 2026 Percent of occupational group self-employed, projected 2026

Personal care and service

135,900 1,173,800 15.3

Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance

83,000 785,100 12.7

Construction and extraction

78,300 1,271,700 16.8

Management

70,100 1,960,200 19

Transportation and material moving

60,200 516,600 4.7

Business and financial operations

56,800 499,400 5.6

Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media

46,600 744,500 25.3

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program.

By detailed occupation, BLS projects self-employment to grow in some occupations and to decline in others. For example, the occupation of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers—which had nearly 750,000 self-employed workers in 2016, the most of any occupation—is projected to lose about 21,000 jobs by 2026. But the occupations in chart 2, including childcare workers, real estate sales agents, and management analysts, are projected to have many new jobs for self-employed workers from 2016 to 2026.

View Chart Data

Chart 2. Self-employment in selected occupations, 2016 and projected 2026 (percent)
Occupation Self-employment, 2016 Percent of occupation self-employed, 2016 Self-employment, projected 2026 Percent of occupation self-employed, projected 2026

Childcare workers

350,400 28.8 378,900 29.1

Carpenters

340,300 33.2 362,500 32.7

Construction laborers

304,800 25.1 324,700 23.8

Hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists

264,600 42.9 299,100 42.9

Landscaping and groundskeeping workers

262,100 21.9 293,600 22.0

Real estate sales agents

194,700 55.8 207,700 56.3

Maids and housekeeping cleaners

177,200 12.3 197,900 12.9

Painters, construction and maintenance

161,400 42.3 172,000 42.6

Management analysts

140,200 17.4 169,400 18.4

Taxi drivers and chauffeurs

110,600 36.3 155,000 48.4

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program.

Half of the occupations in chart 2 typically require no formal educational credential for entry, but they might need other qualifications. Taxi drivers and chauffeurs, for example, may need a taxi or limousine license in addition to a regular driver’s license.

High concentration

Of the groups shown in chart 1, the arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media group is projected to add the fewest jobs for self-employed workers from 2016 to 2026. However, 25 percent of jobs in these occupations are projected to be for self-employed workers in 2026, the highest concentration of any group.

Chart 3 shows the percentage of workers projected to be self-employed in selected occupations in the highest concentration group in 2026. The chart also shows the percentage of self-employed for all occupations projected for 2026: 6.2 percent. Although these workers focus on different tasks, all of the occupations involve creativity.

View Chart Data

Chart 3. Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations projected to have high concentrations of self-employed workers, 2026
Occupation Percent self-employed, projected 2026 Self-employment, projected 2026

Photographers

80.6 112,000

Writers and authors

63.1 89,200

Art directors

58.7 55,900

Multimedia artists and animators

56.7 45,300

Musicians and singers

35.2 64,400

Graphic designers

18.3 50,900

Total, all occupations

6.2

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program.

Most of the occupations in chart 3 typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry. Musicians and singers, the one occupation that typically requires no formal education to enter, does require an ability or talent that must be cultivated over several years—which is also the case for photographers and writers and authors.

High pay for self-employed

In all of the occupations in table 1, self-employed workers had a median annual income greater than $60,000 in 2016. That’s nearly twice $32,020, the median annual income for all self-employed workers. These high-income occupations for self-employed workers also are projected to have above-average rates of self-employment in 2026. Income data in the table were calculated from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Table 1.

View Chart Data

Table 1. Projected self-employment, 2026, and typical education and training requirements in selected occupations with high incomes for self-employed workers, 2016
Occupation Self-employment, projected 2026 Percent self-employed, projected 2026 Median annual income, 2016 Typical entry-level education Typical on-the-job training to attain competency

Management analysts

169,400 18.4% $65,090 Bachelor's degree(1) None

Lawyers

163,900 19.1 90,460(2) Doctoral or professional degree None

Accountants and auditors

100,300 6.5 71,560 Bachelor's degree None

Personal financial advisors

72,200 23.1 100,900 Bachelor's degree Long-term on-the-job training

Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists

41,700 24.8 76,960(3) Doctoral or professional degree Internship/residency

Dentists, general

30,500 19.2 150,920(4) Doctoral or professional degree None

Appraisers and assessors of real estate

19,600 21.3 60,540 Bachelor's degree Long-term on-the-job training

Chiropractors

16,300 30.6 61,930 Doctoral or professional degree None

Veterinarians

11,800 12.5 80,050 Doctoral or professional degree None
Footnotes:

(1) In addition to a degree, this occupation typically requires less than 5 years of work experience in a related occupation.

(2) Data are for self-employed lawyers and judges, magistrates, and other judicial workers.

(3) Data are for all types of self-employed psychologists.

(4) Data are for all types of self-employed dentists.

Source: Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program (employment data; education, experience, and training analysis) and authors’ calculations from 2016 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata (income data).

All of the occupations in table 1 typically require a bachelor’s, doctoral, or professional degree for entry. Nearly half of them also require people to have work experience in a related occupation in order to enter or require workers to get on-the-job training to attain competency.

Explore further

There are many options for self-employment. For more inspiration, see table 2 to find some other occupations in which BLS projects at least 30,000 self-employed workers in 2026.

Table 2.

View Chart Data

Table 2. Projected self-employment for workers in selected occupations, 2026

More than 100,000 self-employed workers, projected 2026

Occupation Self-employment, projected 2026 Percent self-employed, projected 2026

First-line supervisors of retail sales workers

355,200 22.3

Construction managers

162,800 36.3

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers

154,300 7.8

Property, real estate, and community association managers

140,600 40.2

Food service managers

113,200 33.7

Automotive service technicians and mechanics

104,300 13.1

Personal care aides

102,100 3.7

Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners

101,200 3.9

Insurance sales agents

100,200 18.2

Less than 100,000 but more than 50,000 self-employed workers, projected 2026

Occupation Self-employment, projected 2026 Percent self-employed, projected 2026

Self-enrichment education teachers

80,000 19.4

Light truck or delivery services drivers

77,900 7.7

Door-to-door sales workers, news and street vendors, and related workers

74,800 90.7

Chief executives

74,400 25.1

Massage therapists

72,200 35.7

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

64,300 11.6

Electricians

57,600 7.9

Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products

55,800 3.6

Nonfarm animal caretakers

53,200 17.7

Less than 50,000 but more than 30,000 self-employed workers, projected 2026

Occupation Self-employment, projected 2026 Percent self-employed, projected 2026

Barbers

45,800 71.6

Nursing assistants

41,600 2.5

Manicurists and pedicurists

39,500 27.6

Driver/sales workers

39,200 8.5

Fitness trainers and aerobics instructors

36,000 10.9

Roofers

32,600 20.1

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers

32,300 8.4

Web developers

31,300 16.7

Coaches and scouts

30,300 9.7

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Learn about the occupations mentioned in this article, along with hundreds of others, in the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). The OOH describes what workers do, what wage and salary workers are paid, what it takes to enter an occupation, and more.

About the Author

Elka Torpey and Brian Roberts are economists in the Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections, BLS. They can be reached at torpey.elka@bls.gov and roberts.brian@bls.gov.

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Suggested citation:

Elka Torpey and Brian Roberts, "Small-business options: Occupational outlook for self-employed workers," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018.

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