Pop quiz: What percentage of Missouri companies have fewer than 10 employees?

The Missouri Department of Economic Development keeps track of these sorts of things. In 2012, it says, 138 companies in the state had 1,000 or more employees. Another 256 were in the 500-999 range, and 741 had 250 to 499 workers. Together, that’s no small number of jobs – but less than 1 percent of Missouri companies.

The answer: 71.3 percent – 112,576 of the state’s 157,882 businesses – have one to nine employees.

Those private employers are creating more jobs, though more people are out there actively looking for work, so the decline in jobless rates is maddeningly slow. Drawing on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center puts the state’s July unemployment rate at 7.4 percent – the same as a year ago. The number of people with jobs – just more than 3 million – is up about 23,000 since July 2012, but so is the total workforce, that is, the number of workers plus those looking for work. The overall number of those unemployed was higher by about 250 people.

It’s marginally better in the metro area. Looking at both sides of the state line, MERIC puts the number of people with jobs at 1.02 million, up 11,589 in a year. The workforce is up a little more than 5,000, and in a workforce of 1.1 million that translates to a July jobless rate of 7.1 percent, down from 7.4 a year earlier.

In Blue Springs, the July jobless rate was 6 percent, right in the middle of the tight range it’s been in all year. In Independence, it’s bounced back up to 7.5 percent.

Will the slow progress continue? Ernie Goss, a Creighton University professor who closely tracks the Midwest economy, suggests that’s likely.

His Creighton Economic Forecasting Group on Tuesday came out with its monthly update. The report was generally upbeat about the Midwest, though a little less so about Missouri. The state’s manufacturers, he points out, keep doing well, but telecommunications companies keep shedding jobs. The group puts Missouri’s August business conditions index – a forward-looking figure – at 53.6, based on a survey of purchasing managers.

That’s in positive territory but down from 55.7 in July. Still four of the five components of that score – new orders, production or sales, delivery lead time and employment – were positive, while inventory levels tilted negative.

For the nine-state Midwest – Arkansas to Minnesota, Oklahoma to North Dakota – the business conditions index rose for the first time in six months, to 53.8. Again, not gangbusters but positive territory. Two-thirds of those firms said they’ve seen no impact of federal sequestration. Goss has for some time said he’s worried about the re-emergence of inflation – though it hasn’t happened yet – and he’s still expressing that worry. He reports that wholesale prices are up, and that companies expect the prices they pay for goods and services to rise 4.6 percent during the next year.

That’s an issue we haven’t tussled with for years. You might recall that it isn’t fun.

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s business reporter and editor. Reach him at jeff.fox@examiner.net or 816-350-6313. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_Fox or @FoxEJC.