(This post originally appeared on The Hill)
There’s been a lot of talk about a looming recession, and economists are trying to sort out several conflicting economic indicators. But there’s one indicator about which there’s no argument: small businesses are confident and optimistic.
Just look at the numbers. In the past few months alone, indexes and reports from The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Capital One Bank, Provident Bank, Wells Fargo, Wilmington Trust, First Citizens Bank, Kabbage and Scalefactor — which together encompass the responses of tens of thousands of small business owners — have all concluded that small business confidence and optimism is strong. So strong, in fact, that many of these levels are at their highest in history.
“Optimism among small business owners has surged back to historically high levels, thanks to strong hiring, investment, and sales,” NFIB President and CEO Juanita D. Duggan wrote in her organization’s recent report. “The small business half of the economy is leading the way, taking advantage of lower taxes and fewer regulations, and reinvesting in their businesses, their employees, and the economy as a whole.”
It makes sense, of course. The economy is strong, and the small business economy is booming. Lending is up. Government contracts to small firms are at an all-time high. Capital spending has increased, as have wages and hiring.
But there’s one other measure that people aren’t considering. It’s my unscientific measurement of just how good things are for small businesses, which also measures how good things are for the economy as well.
I call it The Care Index. It’s midway through 2019 and I can confirm — anecdotally only — that this index has plummeted to a record low. Nobody cares about my small business.
Just think about it. During the Great Recession, the struggles of entrepreneurs and business owners were reported all over the media. “Small companies can’t get loans” was a common theme. “Small firms are struggling to stay afloat” was another.
Many businesses went bust. Most shed employees. Main streets across the country were littered with empty storefronts. My company faced its own revenue and profitability challenges.
During that time, politicians made great efforts to voice their concerns. Big companies launched campaigns to highlight the plight of their smaller brethren. To take just one example, American Express launched Small Business Saturday in 2010 to show support for its retailers and merchants.
As a small business writer, I was frequently sought after to weigh in on the enormous economic issues affecting us.
But now? Feh. Nobody cares.
Sure, we’ll occasionally see a story or two about how small companies are struggling to find workers, pay a higher minimum wage or deal with some new regulation. But no one’s feeling very sympathetic. And yes, we’ll hear politicians voice their support for small businesses and our challenges during this political year.
But c’mon, can we all agree that this just isn’t the political issue it was in 2008 or 2012? That’s because we all know that most of America’s 30 million small businesses are doing just fine, thank you very much.
That’s not great for small business writers like me because people don’t seem to have the same level of interest now that they had during the height of the recession. Then again, I don’t just write about small business; I also own a small business that’s been taking advantage of these stronger economic times.
The Care Index is at its lowest level ever, but I’ve got nothing to complain about.