By Dan Danner
Most of us were taught, as children, that “If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
Those who own and run their own businesses are particularly mindful of this age-old truth. Which is why many small-business owners and economists alike expressed skepticism when the federal government announced that the jobless rate had declined to 7.8 percent last month, in part due to the sudden creation of nearly one million new jobs. Economists have called it a statistical anomaly, pointing out that the less than two percent pace of growth in the current economy would not generate 800,000 new jobs.
And the “rosy” numbers are belied by all sorts of conflicting reports, like the National Federation of Independent Business’ (NFIB) reliable Small Business Optimism Index. The Index showed what small-owners know to be true: in the current tenuous political and economic atmosphere, there is little incentive to increase their employment rolls. NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg noted that a majority of new jobs tallied by the government were part-time positions. “A hollow way to reduce the unemployment rate,” he said.
Debatable numbers aside, there is no avoiding the truth that the economy simply is not doing well. At what point did a 7.8 percent unemployment become a good thing? That number is too high and shouldn’t be touted as a victory for anyone.
It’s past time that Washington, D.C. take notice that the normally-optimistic view and expectations of the small-business community continues to stagnate and even slide. The September NFIB Index remained at a recession-level reading—where it has remained throughout the duration of the “recovery.” Job-creation plans plunged six points, job openings fell a point and more firms cut employment than boosted it.
Customers also know the truth. The unfortunate-but-truly bad economy is keeping their spirits low, raising doubts about the ability of the federal government to restore it. A Univ. of Michigan/Reuters survey found nearly half of consumers—46 percent—think the Obama administration is doing a poor job of putting things back on track.
The dysfunctional political climate in Washington is chilling for small-business owners, who continue to operate in maintenance mode: spending only when necessary, not hiring, not expanding, not ordering inventories until the future appears certain. They have a lot at stake in the upcoming election and worry that the outcome could send their tax and regulatory burden flying in the wrong direction.
Tax-and-regulation-happy politicians have wasted no time claiming the recent too-good-to-be-true employment bounce as evidence that their flawed policies have launched a recovery. But don’t put much faith in their pop-up data. No real action to boost the economy has been made.
What America’s economy needs is political leadership that is actually good enough to be true. That will restore small-business owners’ faith in government and, in turn, give them the confidence to rebuild our economy.
Dan Danner is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents 350,000 small-business owners in Washington, D.C. and every state capital.