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Abstract: A well-documented observation of the U.S. economy in the last few decades has been the steady decline in the net entry rate of employer firms, a decline in business dynamism, suggesting a possible connection with the recent slowdown in aggregate productivity growth. We consider the role of nonemployers, businesses without paid employees, in business dynamism and aggregate productivity. Notwithstanding the decline in the growth of employer firms, we show that the total number of firms, which includes nonemployer businesses, has increased in the U.S. economy since the early 1980s. We interpret this trend, along with the evolution of the employment distribution across firms, through the lens of a standard theory of firm dynamics. The model implies that firm dynamics have contributed to an average annual growth rate of aggregate productivity of at least 0.26% since the early 1980s, over one quarter of the productivity growth of 1% in the data. Further, our implied measure of productivity growth moves closely over time with measured productivity growth in the data.
Keywords: Nonemployers, employer firms, business dynamism, productivity, TFP.
JEL Classification: O1, O4, O5, E02, E1.