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Thinking About Hiring? Signs of Life in the Job Market A trio of labor-market reports out this week show that small-business owners added jobs last month.

By Catherine Clifford

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


If you are contemplating making a new hire, you might be curious to know that your peers are starting to do just that, according to new reports on the labor market this week. The pace of job growth varies depending on the report, but they all show that businesses added jobs in February.

The U.S. economy added 236,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate decreased to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent in January, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released today. Those job gains were primarily in the construction, health care and professional and business-services industries, the BLS says.

The pace of job growth in February was faster than the previous three months, when employment gains averaged 195,000 per month, the highly-anticipated report shows.

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Another labor-market report out this week focuses only on the private-sector. Payroll-processing firm ADP's job report released Wednesday shows that small businesses are adding to payrolls fairly consistently. According to the report, in February companies with between one and 19 employees added 47,000 jobs. Midsize companies, those with between 20 and 49 employees, added 29,000 workers.

Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics, dubs the ADP release a "solid report," noting that if the economy continued to add jobs at the current pace, the U.S. unemployment rate would begin to fall. He attributes the growth in small-business employment to improvement in the economy's housing and construction sectors. He says plumbers, heating installers and landscape companies are usually very small businesses, so when the housing market starts to recover, these sort of small companies benefit.

Small-business hiring has lagged behind that of larger businesses because smaller businesses have taken longer to recover from the Great Recession. "Their finances got completely mangled. Wiped out. It has taken time for them to repair their finances, get them in order, and then get to a spot where they can go out and hire," Zandi says.

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Recently, lenders are stepping back into the market, providing some relief for small businesses that saw credit lines choked during the recession. When small businesses can't get access to loans from traditional banks, they often turn to home equity to fund their businesses. As home values improve, they are gaining access to more financial wiggle room, Zandi says.

Meanwhile, a report out Monday shows employment growth at the smallest of businesses edged up by only 0.07 percent in February. Businesses with fewer than 20 employees added only 15,000 new jobs, according to the monthly report from Intuit, the software company behind the popular accounting tools TurboTax and Quicken. Average monthly pay at these companies increased by 0.4 percent or $12, and the average hours per month worked increased by 0.17 percent, or 12 minutes.

This rate of job growth is unsatisfactory, according to Susan Woodward, an economist who worked with Intuit on its report. Until home construction recovers, small businesses and the self-employed will continue to lag on the hiring front, she says.

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Small-business owners might have done more hiring were it not for the instability in Washington, D.C., according to a recent survey from Pepperdine University and Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. More than six in 10 business owners surveyed said the U.S. political turmoil is having a negative impact on their ability to hire. Regulatory reform, tax incentives and increased access to capital were nearly tied as the most popular policies that would help encourage job creation in the U.S., the survey says.

What does it take for you to feel confident enough to make that next hire? Leave a note below and let us know.

Catherine Clifford

Senior Entrepreneurship Writer at CNBC

Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.

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