March 17, 2002 – The numbers look small, but there's a story behind the 877 people territorywide who in the 2000 Census said they work out of their homes. While they account for only 1.9 percent of V.I. workers, these people are part of a nationwide growing trend of folks who work regularly from their homes.
National data show that many of those on the mainland who work at home do so for an employer. In the Virgin Islands, they are more likely to be self-employed.
And for the Virgin Islands, the 2000 Census figure is down from 930 people who said they worked at home in the 1990 Census. However, the earlier census was taken in the spring after Hurricane Hugo hit the territory. An exceptionally large number of people may have been working at home at that time because of having lost their outside jobs in the aftermath of the devastating hurricane.
All statistics cited refer to workers over the age of 16.
For 2000, St. John is the only island that registered an increase in the number of people who said they work at home — 83, versus 66 in 1990. They account for 3.5 percent of St. John's workers, nearly double the overall territorial average.
The increase from 1990 to 2000 is greater for Coral Bay than for Cruz Bay. In Coral Bay, 21 people said they worked at home, up from six in 1990. This may well be related to the fact that the Coral Bay area had the largest percentage of population growth across the territory.
Cruz Bay in 2000 had 47 people working at home, up from 39 in 1990. On the East End, two people said in 2000 that they work at home; in 1990, there were none.
The Census statistics indicate that the vast majority of people who work out of their homes on St. John are women who relocated from the mainland, a population group that is a minority of the island's population.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley, asked if he knew of any West Indians who work our of their homes, replied, "There must be some, but I can't think of one off the top of my head."
The actual numbers of people working out of their homes on St. Thomas and St. Croix are far larger, but for each of those islands the percentage is 1.8 of the employed work force. The Census report did not break the numbers down by race or gender, but informal questioning points to most of them being women. On St. Thomas, the number was 435, down from 472 in 1990. On St. Croix, it was 359, down from 392 in 1990.
Home offices make sense, save dollars
The Labor Department has no statistics on how many people work at home, what they do or why. The Census Bureau generates only quantitative data. Therefore, any such "human interest" information can be derived only through personal accounts. A sampling of St. John at-home workers suggests they operate out of a "home office" because the island doesn't offer the kind of jobs they would like.
"If you want an $80,000-a-year job here, good luck," St. John resident Constance Wallace said.
Wallace was an IBM saleswoman before she moved to St. John in 1980. She soon bought a hand-painted clothing business that has its retail shop in Mongoose Junction. After a few years, she decided she would rather manage the store from home. Since she owned her home and needed a quiet space to do her books, she reasoned, it made no sense to rent expensive space elsewhere. Her business eventually expanded to include wedding photography and web site promotion — which she saw as a niche that needed filling.
Wallace suggested that many St. John at-home workers followed the same train of thought. "They see nobody's doing X, so they'll do X," she said.
She also said that many St. John shop owners manage their stores from home, thereby avoiding the extra expense of an office.
St. John's exploding vacation villa market accounts for many home-based workers. However, a recent trend has such managers moving their offices out of their homes and into commercial space, perhaps reflecting the enormous growth in what has become more than a cottage industry.
Karen Baranowski is one of those who made the change. Operating Windspree out of her Freeman's Ground home for several years, she moved last fall to an office in Coral Bay. "I had four people in a 12 by 12 room," she said of her home office. The new office has more room for staff and supplies and also provides much more convenient access for guests and people who may want to line up a future rental. "It's definitely good for business," she said.
However, Baranowski misses certain conveniences of working at home. She's had to rearrange her laundry schedule and has given up on making dinner, a chore now falls to her husband and daughter. "I liked working at home," she said.
Convenience, flexibility count
Home-based workers on St. Thomas and St. Croix also cite convenience, keeping expenses down, flexibility and personal preference as reasons for working at their residences.
"I can go take a walk when I want to," said Patsy Hirsh, a St. Croix wedding planner who works at home.
Several home-based workers contacted on St. Thomas and St. Croix for this article were unwilling to have their names used. Some said their neighbors weren't thrilled that they were running businesses out of their homes; others didn't want to be identified for reasons they wouldn't specify.
St. Thomas resident Billy Walker, who crafts candles out of his home-based shop, speculated that many people with home-based businesses don't have licenses, and that this might be why some are reluctant to have their names used.
Walker also thinks the numbers don't tell the entire story. He said there are many people like him who work some of the time at home and some of the time elsewhere. In addition to his candle business, he works as the V.I. Montessori School maintenance man. He said he makes more money creating candles than at the school.
Many trades people have their offices at home, although they do their physical work elsewhere, Walker said, and there are slews of artisans like him who create such things as soap, hats and artwork at home. And then there are the childcare workers who watch a handful of children in their homes. Some of those people may work a day or two a week outside the home, but essentially they have home-based businesses.
Finally, part of the reason many people prefer to work at home, Walker said, is that "It's less stressful."
Editor's note: The Source will report periodically on selected statistics from the V.I. 2000 Census. Data released to date can be found on the U.S. Census web site at Census2000/USVI.
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