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Study: Small-business Owners’ Confidence in Economy Falters

Chamber finds views of the health of their own businesses remains positive

WASHINGTON — The Q4 MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index shows small businesses’ confidence in the economy dropping nearly eight points from Q3. The Index score, which measures small business owner confidence, fell to 61.3 from 69.2— a return to the scores seen earlier this year and in late 2022.    

Small-business owners’ worsening view of the national economy and their local economy helped drive the index score down. Just a quarter (25%) of small businesses say the U.S. economy is in good health and 30% say their local economy is in good health, both down eight percentage points since last quarter.  

But at the same time, small-business owners’ views on the health of their own businesses remain positive. About two-thirds (64%) of small-business owners say the health of their business is very or somewhat good. Two-thirds (67%) of small businesses say they are somewhat or very comfortable with their current cash flow, down slightly from last quarter (72%) but consistent with the reading from this time last year (67%).

“With inflation still outpacing revenue expectations, small-business owners are wary of the future and continue to have an overall negative impression about the national economy,” says Tom Sullivan, vice president of small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “At the same time, holiday shopping is already setting records this year and most small businesses say they are doing okay despite persistent headwinds.”

Inflation and Worker Shortage Dominate Small Business Concerns   

Small-business owners' concerns are dominated by inflation. For the sixth consecutive quarter, 50% or more small businesses have cited inflation as one of their biggest challenges. Inflation concern has held steady at 52%-54% over the last year. 

Amid the ongoing worker shortage, nearly half (45%) of small businesses report searching for, recruiting, or interviewing new talent in 2023. Nearly half of those who report searching for new talent in 2023 say it is hard to offer competitive pay and benefits — and 60% agree it is challenging to keep up with existing employees’ salary expectations. 

More (48%) small businesses who have searched for talent this year also say it is hard to find enough candidates to fill open positions compared to a few years ago. Most of those who have looked for new employees say it is hard finding candidates with the experience (54%) or skills (52%) their business needs. 

About seven in 10 (71%) small-business owners agree that employers should more often consider hiring from talent pools such as formerly incarcerated people, veterans, military spouses, or legal immigrants. A majority (54%) of small businesses think the U.S. should issue more skilled worker visas annually so businesses can hire the workers they need. 

“As small business owners report challenges attracting and retaining employees, it is important to consider the recruiting tools beyond just salary and understand the powerful role benefits can play,” says Cynthia Smith, senior vice president, regional business at MetLife. “A robust voluntary benefits program can offer employees personalized benefits to meet their specific needs without adding cost.”

About the Small Business Index    

The MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index is part of a multiyear collaboration by MetLife and the U.S. Chamber to elevate the voice of America’s small business owners and highlight the important role they play in the nation’s economy. The quarterly Index, an online survey of approximately 750 small business owners and decision-makers, is designed to take the temperature of the sector, see where small business owners are confident and where they are experiencing challenges.  

The Q4 2023 survey was conducted October 5-24, 2023. The survey has a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points for all respondents.


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