Indicators

Gauging Small Business Hiring in December


Patience helped in 2013 while keeping track of the various surveys that aim to describe small business owners’ sentiment. Hiring slowed slightly one month, and ticked up the next. The overall outlook darkened following the partial shutdown of the federal government in October, then reversed itself. Of course, “small business” is a slippery term, and surveys varied based on who was doing the research and how they defined “small.”

Case in point: Two surveys published in the last days of 2013 showed small business owners with markedly different expectations for the year ahead:

A report from Vistage International, based on surveys from 937 business owners and chief executive officers running companies with $20 million or less in annual revenue, showed confidence at an 18-month high. Respondents expecting a stronger U.S. economy over the next 12 months outnumbered those anticipating weaker conditions by three to one.

Research from Gallup, meanwhile, based on 605 surveys from business owners, also with $20 million or less in revenue, showed the balance tipping in the direction of small business owners predicting a worse operating environment for their business in 2014 compared with 2013.

Here is the rest of the New Entrepreneur’s roundup of small business hiring snapshots for December:

• Small businesses added 20,000 jobs in December, according to the Intuit (INTU) Small Business Employment Index, but compensation and hours worked ticked down. The survey was compiled from aggregate data on 170,000 companies with less than 20 workers.

• Companies with less than 50 workers added 108,000 jobs in December, according to ADP (ADP), up from 101,000 the month before. Job gains were split close to evenly between companies with less than 20 workers and those who employ between 20 and 49 workers.

• Hiring decreased slightly in December to finish 2013 down 1.7 percent, according to an index compiled by Sure Payroll (PAYX) reflecting trends at companies with 10 or fewer workers. One interesting tidbit from the report: Main Street decreased reliance on independent contractors over the course of the year, perhaps indicating that small business owners are getting ready to bring on more full-time workers.

• The CBIZ (CBIZ) Small Business Employment Index, which measures hiring at companies with fewer than 300 workers, gained ever so slightly in December. “Small business owners, battered by a half decade of decreasing demand and increasing regulation, are still wary of investing heavily in additional labor,” CBIZ Payroll Services President Philip Noftsinger said in a release.

• The unemployment rate for unincorporated self-employed workers and unpaid family workers was 5.3 percent last month, down from 5.6 percent in December 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. economy added 74,000 payroll jobs in December, well below the median forecast of 197,000 jobs by 90 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.

Clark is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek covering small business and entrepreneurship.

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