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Good U.S. Jobs News Can Be Found in Big Business

Author: Peter R. Orszag, Adjunct Senior Fellow
May 16, 2012


Big business, we keep being told, has been so hampered by regulatory uncertainty over the past few years, it has been reluctant to hire workers.

So it is surprising to read the results of a little-known survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Very large businesses, it turns out, have been expanding their domestic workforces relatively rapidly. If, since January 2011, businesses of all sizes had hired at the same rate as those with 5,000 or more employees, we would have almost 4 million more jobs today.

The BLS data show that the overall weakness in the U.S. labor market reflects slow employment growth among smaller businesses, following a recession that hit them especially hard.

The data come from the bureau's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), which is commonly used to examine trends in rates of hiring and job loss. While the monthly payroll numbers that receive so much attention show the net change in employment -- the difference between the number of workers hired and the number leaving their jobs -- the JOLTS data provide crucial information about why employment is rising or falling. (For instance, does higher employment reflect more hires or fewer people losing jobs?)

The JOLTS data are also useful in that they are broken down by business size. As the economists Alan Krueger, now the chairman of President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, and Sarah Charnes, at the Treasury Department, wrote last year, the JOLTS data are "the most timely government source of information on employment trends by establishment size."

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