Small business owners: ignored, frustrated, and afraid

A new poll of small business owners finds that most fear the economy will stagnate or worsen in the next year.

Robert Harbison / The Christian Science Monitor / File
Entrepreneur Rose Girard, shown in this file photo from October, 1998, owns and operates a heavy construction company based in Riverside, Calif. Many entrepreneurs express concern about the current economy and the low likelihood of improvement.

A new poll of small business owners is out this morning, conducted by Bill McInturff and Doug Schoen for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), and it shows that small business owners are not in a good mood.

"This poll reveals that there is a lot of fear among business owners in this current economic climate," said U.S. Chamber Executive Vice President and ILR President Lisa Rickard.

According to the survey of 1,000 small business owners, 78% of respondents say that the U.S. economy will either remain stagnant or get worse over the next year. This is the most pessimistic findings I have seen in recent polls.

So what should be done by Washington? It seems that most small business owners agree with me on this one. Two-thirds of small business owners (65%) say government is doing too much that is better left to businesses and individuals.

Small business owners are paying attention to politics these days. Respondents are more interested in the November elections than the general population by a 75% to 70% margin.

They believe it is time for a dramatic change. Fifty six percent of small business owners would vote in November to defeat and replace every single member of Congress, including their own representative, compared to 47% of all Americans.

As other recent surveys have also shown, lawsuits are a major concern for small business owners and an obstacle to economic growth. Seventy eight percent say that if Congress passes laws allowing trial lawyers to bring more lawsuits, it would have a negative impact on the economic climate affecting their businesses. In addition, 92% say the poor economy has made it more difficult for their company to absorb the additional costs, time, and other issues related to a lawsuit.

A bit more details on what the respondents said about lawsuits:

  • One in three (35%) of all small businesses have been sued or threatened with a lawsuit.
  • Sixty four percent say that lawsuits have been on the rise, and 68% believe that the number of lawsuits against companies will continue to increase over the next five years.
  • If targeted in a lawsuit: 74% of small business owners say companies such as theirs would very likely have to pass those costs on to their customers; 68% say they would very likely have to reduce existing employees' benefits; and 71% say they would very likely have to hold back on hiring new employees.

But here is the one result in this poll that gave me the most pause. This poll showed that 32% of business owners say they are not confident in the future of their own company. And this is a poll of those who own businesses that have actually survived the first years of the recession.

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