President Trump has been quick to take credit for jobs created by large companies like Ford, General Motors, Lockheed Martin, and Walmart, and most of these claims are exaggerated, a Fortune fact-check shows.
But now it looks like the president may be due some credit for a recent hiring spurt by small businesses.
An analysis by two Morgan Stanley economists shows hiring by small firms has picked up since last year’s election after declining for about two years.
“Small business hiring may have lagged—unusually so—in this labor market recovery, but its animal spirits are certainly awake now,” economists Ellen Zentner and Michel Dilmanian wrote in a report to clients on Tuesday.
The data seem to reflect that small business owners are walking the talk, after reporting their highest levels of optimism in 43 years. Small business optimism, as measured by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), has skyrocketed since November, driven by expectations that a new health care law, tax reform, and reduced government regulation may boost the economy.
Prior to the election, the number of jobs created by new businesses had been declining. (Those new businesses include your local hair salon, corner bakery, doctor’s offices, and electricians but also new stores from Walmart or factories from say, Boeing.) While new establishments less than one year old had added 4 million jobs in 1994, they added only 3 million jobs in 2015, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows. In 2015, each new firm hired an average of four workers, whereas 20 years earlier, they’d hired seven.
This downward trend in small business hiring persisted, even after the jobs recovery that followed the Great Recession. “Whether this is related to a lack of credit availability or an increased regulatory burden, the fact is that small businesses have not led the pack in hiring throughout much of this expansion, which is quite abnormal,” Zentner and Dilmanian noted.
To conduct their analysis, the economists used historical data from payroll processor ADP to track hiring by businesses with under 50 employees, vs. medium-sized businesses and large businesses employing 500 or more people since the election. The latest ADP report, released Wednesday morning, showed a big pickup in hiring, with 263,000 jobs added in March—118,000 of which were added by businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
But Zentner and Dilmanian didn’t look merely at the absolute change in the number of jobs each month. Instead, they used a statistical method that controls for historical trends and measures relative change. In other words, they wanted to answer the question: How much has hiring by these firms diverged from the historical norms?
And when viewed through that lens, the most dramatic improvement since before the election comes from small and medium-sized businesses. “Since the presidential election, we find that while the pace of hiring has remained roughly steady for large businesses … small and medium businesses have meaning fully ramped up hiring,” Zentner and Dilmanian wrote.
The danger now comes from whether President Trump can deliver on the promises he made to voters. Juanita Duggan, president and CEO of the NFIB, has noted that small business optimism may not be sustainable if “health care and tax policy discussions continue without action.”
Trump has already failed to deliver on overturning Obamacare, and tax reform, which is next on his agenda, is not an easier hurdle. Fortune’s Shawn Tully predicts the president’s plan will be dead on arrival.
But don’t expect small businesses to curb hiring as a result. “To assume a full reversal of this recent surge in sentiment on fiscal disappointment is too cute,” Zentner and Dilmanian wrote. “The anticipatory activity generated now may allow a virtuous cycle of increased hiring, wages, and spending to take hold well before any disappointment does.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its latest jobs report Friday morning. Although the report will not break out data specifically on small businesses, economists are expecting it to show hiring overall remained at a solid pace in March. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg predict 178,000 jobs were added and the unemployment rate remained at 4.7 % in March.