In reality, Starbucks is a massive corporate chain. Statisticians had to tease out establishments from the data collected and then, using identifying information from employer unemployment insurance notifications, reclassify the company into a category based on firm size. The process was repeated for all sorts of companies.
“They weren’t really set up to do this link between establishments and firms very easily,” Hall said.
The Labor Department eventually launched experimental monthly estimates on job openings and losses by business size, created a database based on a survey of 16,000 non-farm business establishments, and now offers information that begins in December 2000 and ends in May 2013. The effort is not yet ready for prime time, however, remaining in the experimental stage. The sobering initial conclusion is that it’s really hard to measure small business in real time.
“Additional research performed on these experimental estimates since their initial release suggests that hires and separations in the lowest size class may be somewhat understated,” the BLS said on a webpage for the experimental data.
Another branch of the BLS that’s responsible for the Current Employment Survey has also experimented with publishing monthly data about employment, earnings and hours worked by size of business. That effort has been on hold since February 2012 as statisticians try to determine why there is variance with the Business Employment Dynamics that’s published currently on a quarterly basis.
“We want to be confident in what we’re putting out there,” said Kirk Mueller, a BLS branch chief who oversaw the effort. “There’s a lot of interest in size-class data.”