Small businesses ended 2017 with a hiring pop, adding 94,000 jobs last month, according to payroll provider ADP.
The increase followed the creation of 53,000 jobs in November, and was well above the 61,000 small companies added on average each month for all of 2017, according to ADP's tallies of hiring at its customers with up to 49 workers. The year saw wide swings in small business hiring, with 126,000 jobs added in March and 28,000 cut in September due to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The vast majority of the new jobs in December came at service companies, likely reflecting seasonal hiring at retailers and restaurants, but it was also a big increase from a year earlier, when 41,000 jobs were added. Consumer spending has been strong — retail sales rose 0.8 percent in November after a 0.5 percent gain in October, according to the Commerce Department — and that has made many business owners more confident about hiring.
ADP also reported a solid gain of 250,000 from its business customers of all sizes.
ADP counted an average 70,000 new small business jobs the last three months of 2017, but it's too early to tell if the hiring growth will continue. Many owners have said in surveys they'll hold on to the conservative hiring strategy they adopted since the Great Recession began 10 years ago. While in the past small businesses would hire in anticipation of getting new business, now owners say they'll wait for revenue to increase significantly before they'll make staff additions.
The Labor Department releases its December employment report on Friday. The report won't break out job gains by company size, but it may nonetheless give an indication of what some small businesses are doing.