Wary business owners

Officially, the Great Recession lasted 18 months and ended four years ago, but we still haven’t gotten back to where we were before things went south.

One sign of that is the unemployment rate. The U.S. average was 7.4 percent in July — better than it was at the height of the recession, but well above the 4.4 percent jobless rate we had before the downturn. Things are worse in Georgia. Our seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for August was 8.8 percent.

Usually, small business plays a big role getting people back to work. It represents 99.7 percent of all employers and employs nearly half of the private-sector workforce, according to the Small Business Administration.

But small business isn’t hiring.

Recently, the National Federation of Independent Business released the results of its July Small Business Economic Trends survey. It said small-business job growth is flat as a pancake. The survey found that:

• More respondents still think general business conditions will be worse than better in six months.

• Only 9 percent think it’s a good time to expand.

• Owners rank taxes and government “red tape” as the most important problems facing small businesses.

You’re not going to buy a new delivery truck if sales are down. You’re not going to hire if you don’t think you’ll have money to pay the new hires.

Look at things from a business owner’s perspective: You’re the boss. You sign the checks. You invested your life’s savings to start the business, and you’re on the hook if things don’t work out.

You have members of Congress who want to raise the personal income tax. What a lot of people don’t realize is that a majority of small employers are incorporated as S corporations. They pay their business taxes at the appropriate personal income rate.

You’re not going to invest in your business if you don’t know what’s coming down the pike.

Then you have the Affordable Care Act. It includes a provision called the health insurance tax, or HIT. It’s a tax on insurers, but the Congressional Budget Office says the insurance companies will simply jack up premiums rather than absorb additional cost.

Self-insured employers will be exempt from the HIT. That means the HIT is aimed squarely at small businesses like yours.

Then there’s a tidal wave of new rules and regulations. President Barack Obama’s most recent Unified Agenda shows 3,500 regulations in the pipeline; 700 will affect small businesses.

You’re not going to buy a new or used car if you think there’s a chance you’ll get laid off soon. Small-business owners in Georgia and elsewhere look at things the same way.

If Washington is serious about getting the economy back on track, it will stop threatening and cajoling small business with higher taxes, increased labor costs and excessive regulations. Simply put, Washington needs to get out of the way so Main Street can create jobs.

Kyle Jackson is Georgia state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.