NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
The government figures didn't paint a very bright picture of the national job market today. To dig deeper into the canvas ... it looks like there isn't much hiring going on at small businesses, according to a very interesting survey.
And if this survey is any indication, what is supposed to be the engine of U.S. job growth is sputtering badly. The SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard rose 0.8 percent in May and has grown now in 11 of the last 12 months.
"That's the good news," according to Michael Alter, who is one of the founders of SurePayroll, a company that offers online payrolls services to small companies around the country. "It's the pace of growth that concerns. Year to date in 2005, small business hiring is up only a paltry 0.3 percent."
And if that rate continues, Alter notes, "we might end up with a 0.7 percent increase in hiring for 2007."
Compare this to 2004 when hiring at small business grew 4.4 percent, according to the SurePayroll measure. SurePayroll had expected an increase of 4.0 percent this year but now the company says this looks way too optimistic.
"Economists should take note of our numbers," Alter warns. "It may be time to revise your estimates for 2005 economic growth."
Adding insult to injury the SurePayroll Pay Index dropped again last month. Average small business salaries have dropped for 14 months in a row. As Mr. Alter suggests, this is something that bears watching.
-- Kathleen Hays is economics correspondent for CNN and contributes to Lou Dobbs Tonight.