The National Federation of Independent Business has released its quadrennial Small Business Problems & Priorities survey, according to which small-business owners list the cost of health insurance, government regulations, and high federal taxes as their top three concerns.
State-specific data isn’t available, but NFIB State Director Nicole Riley said, “What’s clear from the survey is that small-business owners are deeply frustrated by Washington’s failure to address the issues that really matter to them.”
“Small business owners are frustrated by the problems that the federal government creates,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan. “All of the top problems for small businesses relate directly to excessive federal regulation and taxation.”
The NFIB survey asks small business owners to weigh 75 issues on a scale of 1 (a critical problem) to 7 (not a problem). Then it ranks the issues from top to bottom by their average score. According to the data, 52 percent of small business owners rank the “cost of health insurance” as a critical problem. That figure is virtually unchanged from four years ago.
“Congress enacted the Affordable Care Act more than six years ago. Many of its supporters defended the plan as a solution to the cost problem. Obviously, the law has failed in its central promise,” said Duggan.
She noted that with big insurance companies pulling out of many of the health care exchanges, and with double-digit premium hikes likely next year, Congress will have to revisit the issue regardless of what happens in November.
More than a third of small business owners (33 percent) identified “unreasonable government regulations” as a critical problem, placing it second in the rankings, up from the fifth position in 2012.
“In recent years there’s been an explosion of federal and state regulations. Every one of them costs money and time,” said Duggan. “Overregulation is a killer for the economy.”
Tax-related issues represent 5 of top 10 most serious problems for small business owners. Nearly a third (29 percent) say “federal taxes on business income” is their biggest headache. Many others identify: “tax complexity; frequent changes in the tax code; property taxes; and state taxes on business income” as their top concerns.
“Between federal taxes, state/local taxes, and their complexity, the government is consuming the resources that small business needs to survive,” said Duggan.
The biggest change in the survey from previous years is “locating qualified employees.” In 2012, finding good workers ranked 32nd in the survey. This year it’s a serious problem for 12 percent of small business owners, placing it in the top 10. That could indicate a tight labor market, which is good news for workers who can command higher pay and better benefits. Businesses that can’t find good workers are at a disadvantage. Small firms can’t raise prices or increase sales to support higher labor costs.
Another fast climber in the survey this year is “minimum wage/living wage.” In the 2012 survey the issue placed near the bottom of concerns for small business owners. With a number of states and cities raising the mandatory minimum wage, in some cases to as much as $15 per hour, more small business owners now say it’s a big problem. The issue moved up 16 places, from 52 to 36, between 2012 and 2016.
Some serious problems in 2012 moved down in the rankings this year. In the last survey, for example, the “cost of natural gas” was the third worst problem. It tumbled this year to 34th place. “Electricity costs,” which ranked 12 in the last survey, dropped 7 places this year to 19.
“Lower energy prices are a boon to small business. It reduces direct operating expenses, frees up capital, and it increases discretionary income for small business customers,” said Duggan.
To view the full Small Business Problems & Priorities report, visit www.nfib.com.