More than 83,000 U.S. businesses failed last year, according to a Dun & Bradstreet count, nearly 16 percent more than in the previous year.

This is the sort of news Americans had all but forgotten during the good years of the 1990s, when recessions were something that happened in history and the only news that caught the eye and ear concerned what was better.But negative news hasn't ceased during the good times. There's the worsening trade deficit, the low savings rate, the high level of consumer debt and the rising tax bite, to name a few.

In those business failures, however, there's a shock and a reminder that might make an imprint on the popular mind.

Weren't we given to understand that folks everywhere were succeeding in newly formed businesses? Wasn't this the age of the entrepreneur?

Yes, and if forecasters are right, the best is to come. The 1990 Census found more than 3.4 million people worked from home, 54 percent of them self-employed. And in a recent study, AT&T Home Business Resources estimated 25 million people now operate home-based businesses.

The AT&T surveyors found the pace of entrepreneurship quickening, with 27 percent of the companies having been started within the past three years and 35 percent within four to nine years. And, according to the survey, most find it a very positive experience.

So what happened? That's the lesson: Business is risk, and in most of these instances, it's risk without a safety net. Good economic times rouse the inventive spirit and the willingness to take risk, but as more take the risk, the competition intensifies.

You can trace the trend not just in the statistics for at-home entrepreneurs but in the high level of initial public offerings in the securities markets. You can view it in the new shopping malls and the reopened mines and the executive who quits to become a consultant.

They attract attention and make news when they go into business, but when they fail they are sometimes known only by their statistics. If then. D&B's actual count, 83,384, included only those failures who left a legal record or bills behind.

That is, it counted only those that ceased following assignment or bankruptcy; went through foreclosures; voluntarily withdrew leaving unpaid bills; were involved in court actions or compromised with creditors.