As the presidential debate season intensifies, small-business owners are pessimistic about the business climate and feel America is on the wrong track, according to a new survey.
The wide-ranging survey, "Opinions of Small Employers," from the conservative-leaning National Federation of Independent Business released Monday found nearly 70 percent of small-business owners believe the overall U.S. business climate is fair or poor. What's more, six years out of the Great Recession, 63 percent of those polled said the country is on the wrong track. The NFIB surveyed 500 business owners with up to 250 employees.
"Small-business owners just aren't convinced that things are headed in the right direction," said Holly Wade, director of research at the NFIB. The survey was conducted during the second quarter of this year.
The report comes as optimism among small businesses is holding steady, but still lingering below historical averages.The NFIB's Small Business Optimism Index for September, released separately Tuesday, found confidence edged up slightly to 96.1 last month. But fewer business owners expect strong sales.
Looking ahead to the 2016 election year, the NFIB found business owners believe Washington should prioritize dealing with the federal budget as their top economic problem with a third of the vote, followed by slowing the rise of health-care costs with 23 percent and reforming the federal tax code with 18 percent.
The NFIB also weighed in on the so-called gig economy in which freelancers and employers are connected, sometimes for smaller short-term projects. The NFIB survey found 50 percent of respondents strongly opposed the government further restricting the ability of workers to be classified as independent contractors.
President Barack Obama weighed in last week at a White House event and said the gig economy trend could pose issues for employee rights and benefits in the future.
Beyond the gig economy, a third of the small-business owners said they are very concerned about when the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates from historic lows. "The longer the Fed waits, the more business owners are concerned about the economy, and that has a bigger impact further down the road if rates are kept at zero," said Wade of the NFIB.
The first Democratic presidential debate is scheduled for Tuesday night.