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Realtor Andy Asbury realized he needed to hire a new employee because his agency's sales are up 25 percent.
BY JOYCE M. ROSENBERG
AP Business Writer
NEW YORK--If you are trying to figure out if small businesses are hiring, it depends on where you look.
Just last Friday when the government was raising suspicious eyebrows with its report of a sudden drop in the unemployment rate so close to a presidential election, Andy Asbury was hiring a full-time employee to work at his Minneapolis real estate brokerage.
For Asbury, the need for a new employee was clear. Sales at his agency, Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate Area Leaders, are up 25 percent from a year ago and he's expecting them to rise more next year as the housing market continues to improve. He's getting signals from prospective sellers that things are going to get busier and he's gearing up.
"People are planting the seeds right now for when they want to make their move," he says.
Small businesses employ about half the nation's work force, or about 60 million people, so keeping track of how small-business owners like Asbury are faring is key to figuring out if the economy is getting better or worse.
There are some encouraging signs. Asbury and others in the housing and construction industries are feeling confident enough to add workers. So are parts of the manufacturing industry as demand for cars and trucks picks up. Many companies in the health care field are bringing on new workers as the full implementation of the health care overhaul nears and baby boomers age.
The September report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the gains. The number of salaried real estate workers has risen by 195,000 in the last 12 months. In the auto industry, including parts makers, employment is up by 51,700, or 7 percent.
There's also an often overlooked form of small-business hiring--people who start their own companies. In September, 118,000 did that, according to the Labor Department.
But for all the good news, skeptics can find their fair share of evidence to support a gloomier view. Not all small companies are on a hiring spree. Many defense contractors are waiting to see how much Pentagon spending is cut under what's called sequestration. The budget cuts--which may be triggered Jan. 2, would come because lawmakers couldn't reach a budget deal--unless Congress stops them. Smaller retailers are holding back.
"We're in a recovery, but it's still tepid and small business is not getting its share of the recovery--but maybe it will be soon," says Susan Woodward, an econo-mist in Palo Alto, Calif.