Report: Small Biz Job Market Lightens a Bit

July 29, 2003 ( - There was a little bit of good news in the June report of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) - a very little bit.

In a signal that the job market might be loosening a bit, the number of employers with one hard to fill opening ticked up by 1% to 17% of all firms – well below the pre-downturn 35% reached in 2000, but still north of the scant 10% recession readings reported in 1991, according to the NFIB’s monthly Small Business Economic Trends report.

Generally, the respondents in the survey decreased their workforce by 0.23 employees per firm – the 27 th negative month out of the last 29 months. Over the last quarter, the employment picture was largely a wash with 12% of employers ratcheting up the workforce by a seasonally adjusted average of three workers per firm, while 16% cut the personnel rolls by a seasonally adjusted average of 3.2 employees, the NFIB said.

In the economy sectors:

  • in construction, 20% had hard to fill openings and 18% planned to hire
  • in manufacturing, 12% had openings, 20% had hiring plans while 9% anticipated reductions
  • in retailing, 13% reported openings, 12% planned to expand employment, and 9% anticipated reductions.

More than a third (35%) of the NFIB respondents said they had openings, but “few or no qualified applicants,” up 1% over the previous month. One in 10 employers said finding workers with the right skill sets was their key business problem.

Finally, slightly more companies were turning to temp agencies, according to the NFIB poll. Some 13% said they used temporary employees – up 1% from May. Generally, small business owners appeared to be a bit more optimistic in June with a 1.6-increase in the NFIB’s optimism index to 101.7, according to the report.

On the compensation issue, a seasonally adjusted net 16% of the responding employers said they had raised employee compensation over the past quarter, down 4% from May. Plans to raise compensation were up 1% to a seasonally adjusted net 11% – close to the 9% record low over the life of the survey.

The survey was conducted in June and covered 2,626 small business owners who are NFIB members.