Small Businesses Linked to Healthier Residents, Study Says

Counties and parishes with a bigger concentration of small businesses have a healthier population, even if workers are likely to have better access to health insurance through larger companies, a nationwide study has found.
The study of 3,060 counties and parishes in the United States found that small businesses are more likely to support bond issues for health-related infrastructures, recruit physicians, push for local anti-smoking legislation, promote community health programs and activities, and support local farmers’ markets, researchers said.
Sociologists at LSU and Baylor University conducted the national study. The research paper is based on work supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Research Initiative, and the Social and Economic Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation.
They found that counties with a greater proportion of small businesses have a population with lower rates of mortality, obesity and diabetes.
They looked at the number of small businesses per 100,000 people. They considered small business as those with four or fewer employees. Large manufacturers were categorized as those with 500 or more employees, and large retailers as those with 100 or more employees.
“What stands out about this research is that we often think of the economic benefits and job growth that small business generates, but we don’t think of the social benefits to small communities,” said Troy C. Blanchard, Ph.D., lead author and associate professor of sociology at LSU. “This study highlights not only the economic benefits of small business, but its contributions to health and well-being.”
Some sociologists argue that small businesses — unlike chain retail stores and large manufacturing plants — have a greater investment in the community because they have more at stake when it comes to employee health.
The LSU and Baylor researchers, who analyzed national population, health, business and housing data, found that the greater the proportion of small businesses, the healthier the population.
The “old way of thinking,” researchers said, was that larger companies provided high-paying jobs with benefits, so communities invested in attracting national chains.
But larger companies showed a large drop in wages — 33 percent in real dollars — and access to health insurance between 1988 and 2003, previous research has shown.
“Amid restructuring and globalization, some large businesses are giving employees furloughs from full-time jobs, then rehiring them as short-time contract workers with no benefits,” according to a statement from the LSU/Baylor researchers.
While locally owned businesses are not adding greater compensation or benefits, the gap is shrinking.
“It’s in their financial interest to take a stake in the community, to make it a place where people want to live and work,” said co-author Carson Mencken, Ph.D., professor of sociology at Baylor University.

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