It's well understood that existing companies of all sizes constantly create – and destroy – jobs. Conventional wisdom, then, might suppose that annual net job gain is positive at these companies. This study, however, shows that this rarely is the case. In fact, net job growth occurs in the U.S. economy only through startup firms.
The study bases its findings on the Business Dynamics Statistics, a U.S. government dataset compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. The BDS series tracks the annual number of new businesses (startups and new locations) from 1977 to 2005, and defines startups as firms younger than one year old.
The study reveals that, both on average and for all but seven years between 1977 and 2005, existing firms are net job destroyers, losing 1 million jobs net combined per year. By contrast, in their first year, new firms add an average of 3 million jobs.
Further, the study shows, job growth patterns at both startups and existing firms are pro-cyclical, although existing firms have much more cyclical variance. Most notably, during recessionary years, job creation at startups remains stable, while net job losses at existing firms are highly sensitive to the business cycle.
Because startups that develop organically are almost solely the drivers of job growth, job-creation policies aimed at luring larger, established employers will inevitably fail, said the study's author, Tim Kane, Kauffman Foundation senior fellow in Research and Policy. Such city and state policies are doomed not only because they are zero-sum, but because they are based in unrealistic employment growth models.
And it's not just net job creation that startups dominate. While older firms lose more jobs than they create, those gross flows decline as firms age. On average, one-year-old firms create nearly one million jobs, while ten-year-old firms generate 300,000. The notion that firms bulk up as they age is, in the aggregate, not supported by data.
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This study is part of the Kauffman Foundation research series Firm Formation and Economic Growth.