Urban Research Monitor
A Misapplied Concept?

Together, the two authors seem to be suggesting that the concept of microenterprise assistance has been wrenched from a context in which it makes sense—a poor, subsistence, largely informal, cash-based economy—and dropped into a completely different context in which it makes little or no sense—a prosperous, highly structured market economy.

Schreiner, however—in contrast to Howells—holds out the possibility that U.S. microenterprise programs can be modified in ways that would assist the poor. Specifically, he recommends changes that would resolve what he sees as the programs' biggest deficiencies. First, the programs do not help poor entrepreneurs build the cash reserves they need to sustain them during the first months of self-employment. It is really savings that budding entrepreneurs need, not loans, says Schreiner. Second, microenterprise programs should offer on-call advice. Generally, he sees little evidence of the usefulness of up-front classes. Overall, he believes that assistance programs must have stronger incentives to be efficient and improve the quality of their services.

Howells is not optimistic about the concept's viability for America. She concludes that the personal situations and economic resources of welfare dependents are such that self-employment through small business is an inappropriate antipoverty strategy. Her ultimate conclusion is that welfare-dependent people are less likely to achieve economic self-sufficiency through microenterprise assistance than through assistance directed toward the development and acquisition of skills and personal resources that will enable them to obtain good jobs.

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