Positive hiring trends at small businesses: Hiring Activity Index ticks up again in February

As the focus of stock market watchers, economists, and politicians turns to Friday’s release of the February non-farms payroll and unemployment numbers, we thought we’d weigh in again on hiring trends. In the past few days a number of payroll companies have released reports based on their own February numbers. They contain some hopeful signs. On Monday the Intuit Small Business Employment Index, which tracks hiring at companies of fewer than 20 employees, reported another uptick in hiring. The SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard, another measure of small business hiring, reported that in February hiring year-to-date increased 1.9%. And then today the granddaddy of all these private sector reports, the ADP payroll report, noted that non-farm payrolls declined by the least since February 2008. (It’s a sign of how bleak the jobs picture is when small job losses are being celebrated as good news).

It should be noted that the ADP number, unlike the other two, is not focused exclusively on small businesses, as ADP’s customers include large corporations as well as smaller ones. It stands to reason that for small and medium-sized businesses the employment trends may be better than in the economy as a whole, as small and medium-sized businesses often recover more quickly and begin hiring sooner coming out of downturns than do larger corporations.

For what it’s worth, here are our two cents on the latest hiring trends. Our Hiring Activity Index is based mostly on small and medium-sized businesses, though unlike Intuit’s is not confined only to very small businesses: 95% of our customers have between 10 and 1000 employees. And what do our numbers show? The HAI numbers for February look pretty good: the 66.8 reading on the index (meaning 66.8% of our customers were hiring) is up a point from 65.7 in January, and up significantly from the 58.8 level of February 2009.

Here’s hoping that Friday’s goverment numbers look ok too.