A stronger labor market appears to be forcing fewer out-of-work individuals to start their own ventures in order to find work. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Jeffrey MacMillan )

Not as many individuals started companies last year as the year prior, according to a new analysis of government data, continuing a three-year decline in entrepreneurship in the United States.

On the surface, that sounds like pretty lousy news for the economy. On closer look, though, it may not be quite so gloomy.

While the percentage of Americans who launched a new business last year slipped to 0.28 percent from 0.30 percent in 2012, researchers at the Kauffman Foundation, who conducted the analysis using data from the Census Bureau and Labor Department, say the decline has brought the rate of entrepreneurship back down to pre-recession levels, when the economy was growing steadily.

More importantly, it appears the decline has been driven by an improving labor market, which is pressuring fewer out-of-work individuals to start their own ventures out of sheer necessity.

Dane Stangler, Kauffman’s head of research and policy, pointed to statistics showing that only about 22 percent of those who started a company last year were previously unemployed and in search of work. That, too, is more in line with what researchers were seeing at the turn of the century.

During the three years immediately following the recession, conversely, that number had jumped up to and was holding steady at around 26 percent. During that period, the overall rate of entrepreneurship among U.S. adults had spiked to about 0.33 percent.

Now that the labor market has started to rebound, and the unemployment rate has dropped to 6.7 percent, more entrepreneurs appear to be taking the leap because they want to, not because they have to, Stangler explained.

“That’s a good sign,” Stangler said in an interview. “Even though the overall rate is down, the composition of who is starting businesses, in terms of necessity versus opportunity, shows an encouraging trend.”

Researchers point out that the slight decline in start-up rates last year was spread rather evenly across age groups, ethnic groups and geographic regions. Men remain significantly more likely to start a business than women (0.34 percent to 0.22 percent), however, the latter closed the gap a little (0.38 percent versus 0.23 percent in 2012).

And while immigrants started fewer businesses last year, as well, they still remain about twice as likely to start companies in the U.S. as native-born Americans (0.43 percent).

“It’s a giant gap there, and it underscores the economic imporance of attracting even more immigrant entrepreneurs,” Stangler said.

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