The COVID-19 pandemic likelycaused most of the slowdown depicted in the March Paychex | IHSMarkit report, though there were some bright spots in thecountry,

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Paychex released its latest figures on small business employmentand wage growth, gauged right before many companies began severelycurtailing their operations due to COVID-19 – and before Congressgave such businesses lifelines in the latest economic reliefpackage.

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Based on data through March 19, the Paychex | IHS Markit Small Business EmploymentWatch shows a slight decrease in both small business employmentand wage growth in March. At 98.21, the jobs index slowed 0.11percent from February and 0.57 percent year-over-year. Hourlyearnings growth dipped to 2.68 percent ($0.72), while weeklyearnings growth also decelerated to 3.08 percent.

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Related: Retail, grocery hiring heats up as stores rush tomeet COVID-19 demand

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"While limited at this reading, we're beginning to see theeffects of the COVID-19 crisis impacting hours worked, hiring, andnumbers of workers," says Martin Mucci, Paychex president and CEO."We've been impressed with the speed of the federal government inapproving a number of measures to offer relief for small businessesand their employees through the Families First Coronavirus ReliefAct, as well as the just-passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security(CARES) Act."

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The latest federal law allows for the creation of "smallbusiness interruption loans" to made by participating banks andguaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Eligibleborrowers – companies, nonprofits with 500 or less employees – canget a loan for up to $10 million to cover payroll support,including paid sick, medical or family leave, and costs related tothe continuation of group health care benefits during periods ofleave due to COVID-19; employee salaries; mortgage payments; rent(including rent under a lease agreement); utilities; and any otherdebt obligations that were incurred before the covered periodbeginning on March 1 and ending on Dec. 31.

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The COVID-19 pandemic likely caused most of the slowdowndepicted in the March Paychex | IHS Markit report, though therewere some bright spots in the country, as of March 19:

  • Positive earnings growth momentum toward the end of 2019 hasreversed during the first quarter of 2020.
  • At 97.45, the West had the steepest employment growth decline,down 0.19 percent from a year earlier. Weekly hours worked growthin the West declined considerably in March as the one-monthannualized growth rate fell 2.47 percent. Despite a modest declinein March, the Northeast remains up 0.54 percent from a yearago.
  • After a strong finish in 2019, hourly earnings growth in theNortheast slowed again to 2.84 percent. The Midwest reported amodest increase in hourly earnings to 2.40 percent, the only regionto improve in March. Earnings growth remains the strongest in theWest, though weekly hours worked growth declined considerably inMarch as the one-month annualized growth rate fell 2.47percent.
  • For the State Jobs Index, Tennessee gained 0.21 percent inMarch, bringing its index to 100.71 and reinforcing its position asthe top-ranked state. Missouri (0.82 percent) and North Carolina(0.80 percent) had notable increases in March. At 97.21, Illinoisfell 0.56 percent in March with its index now ranking ahead of onlyCalifornia among states.
  • For the State Wage Report, California leads states in hourlyearnings growth at 3.42 percent, with Illinois, New York, andGeorgia as the only other states above three percent. Ranked lastamong states for the past five months, Texas dropped further inMarch to 1.00 percent hourly earnings growth.
  • For the Metropolitan Jobs Index, at 100.30, Tampa overtookPhiladelphia as the top-ranked metro index with the strongestone-month gain, 0.56 percent. As oil prices fell, the Texas metrosof Dallas and Houston both saw index declines of a half-point inMarch.
  • For the Metropolitan Wage Report, Los Angeles leads metros inhourly earnings growth at 3.76 percent, followed closely by SanFrancisco and Baltimore. One of the few metros to improve in March,Denver moved above three percent hourly earnings growth and isapproaching four percent weekly earnings growth as weekly hoursworked growth ranks first among metros. Both hourly and weeklyearnings growth are now below three percent in the New York metroas weekly hours worked continues to decelerate.
  • For the industry Jobs Index, construction and financialactivities were the only two industry sectors to improve rates ofjob growth in March. At 96.39, manufacturing had the biggestdecline among metros, 0.36 percent, falling further behind otherindustry sectors. Down 0.39 percent, small business job growth inLeisure and Hospitality slowed most among industry sectors duringthe first quarter of 2020.
  • For the Industry Wage Report, at 5.25 percent hourly earningsgrowth in March, leisure and hospitality is more than two percentahead of the next highest sector (manufacturing: 3.13 percent).Weekly earnings growth remains above four percent in the trade,transportation and utilities sector despite decelerating for thefifth straight month.
  • Construction leads sectors in weekly hours worked growth, up0.86 percent from a year ago and holding steady during the pastseveral months.
  • Weekly hours worked growth fell sharply in leisure andhospitality in March, with the one-month annualized growth ratedeclining 6.58 percent.
  • Though year-over-year weekly earnings gains remain strong inthe leisure and hospitality sector (4.57 percent), the more recentthree-month annualized growth rate is -3.44 percent.

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Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in Running Springs, Calif. She has more than three decades of journalism experience, with particular expertise in employee benefits and other human resource topics.