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COVID-19

Small business optimism overall is way up, but not for all owners

Mitchell Hartman Oct 13, 2020
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Small businesses in the services sector have a more bleak outlook as they continue to navigate COVID restrictions. Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Small business optimism overall is way up, but not for all owners

Mitchell Hartman Oct 13, 2020
Heard on:
Small businesses in the services sector have a more bleak outlook as they continue to navigate COVID restrictions. Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

There’s still no progress on another round of coronavirus relief coming from Washington, around 25 million Americans are still on unemployment and it appears that COVID-19 is resurging in many parts of the country. So this may come as a surprise: The National Federation of Independent Businesses just released its “Small Business Optimism Index” for September, and it’s back to pre-pandemic levels after tanking in the spring.

NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg said the index found “a lot of good things have been happening in a lot of parts of the country.”

“We’re opening the economy up, people are going back to work, sales have been definitely rising,” Dunkelberg said.

But that’s not the case everywhere. NFIB’s membership is concentrated in small towns and cities, and primarily in industries that have rebounded the fastest, like manufacturing and construction. 

The NFIB optimism index includes fewer respondents from the service sector, like restaurants and retail shops.

Those small businesses have a more bleak outlook, said accountant Paul Peterson, managing partner of Wiss & Company, which serves clients in New York and New Jersey.

“In a lot of our conversations with clients recently, it’s been almost a sense of gloom,” Peterson said.

In September, his firm conducted a national survey of 300 small businesses with Sapio Research. It found that that 10% of small businesses have already shut down and another 5% plan to in coming months.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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