America was made by entrepreneurs — individuals whose hard work and tenacious spirits allowed them to build our nation, brick by brick and storefront by storefront, into what it is today. For hundreds of years we have relied on small-business owners to carry our economy forward, buoy it when it falters and rebuild it when it crumbles. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed the first National Small Business Week to honor the individuals whose sacrifices and triumphs make up the backbone of this nation. This week marks the 50th anniversary of that proclamation. While the economy has had its ups and downs over the years, the fortitude of our small businesses and the honor we bestow on them hasn’t changed a bit.
As we celebrate small businesses this week, it’s critical to reflect on their effect to our economy. Small firms account for half of private sector employment and have created 2 out of 3 net new jobs over the past couple of decades.
While they have been very successful, there is plenty we can do to help small firms. There are various policies either on the books or making their way through Congress that could help small businesses right now.
A Misunderstood Law
Full implementation of the health care law is mere months away. Despite it being the law of the land for more than three years, the politics surrounding it continues to cloud the positive real-life implications it will have on small businesses.
Some key provisions of the law for small businesses are often overshadowed by mistruths and partisan rhetoric. For instance, it’s a fact that the law doesn’t actually require any business to offer coverage. If a business has 50 or more full-time employees but none of the workers receive a tax credit or cost-sharing reduction to purchase coverage through a state exchange, there’s no penalty — whether the employer offers health insurance or not.
What’s more, only businesses with more than 50 full-time employees are required to offer insurance if an employee gets a subsidy. In the U.S., 96 percent of all businesses have fewer than 50 employees. Of the 4 percent with more than 50, 96 percent of them already offer insurance. That means only 0.02 percent of businesses have more than 50 employees and are not offering them insurance.
Lastly, small-business health insurance exchanges will be available starting Jan. 1, 2014. These marketplaces will allow small businesses to band together when buying coverage — giving them the purchasing clout that large businesses currently enjoy. Tax credits of up to 50 percent of premium costs will be provided through the exchanges to help offset costs.
Reforming a Broken System
Across all industries and from one end of the political spectrum to the other, small-business owners firmly believe our immigration system is broken. Nine in 10 entrepreneurs say so, which is why it’s not surprising the vast majority also support comprehensive reform and a pathway to citizenship. Our opinion polling found they believe it will be good for America, small businesses and the economy, and will help create more stable workforces.
Given the need for a plan that includes a path to citizenship, the current Senate bill has overwhelming support among entrepreneurs. While we hope a carve-out is included for very small businesses for any kind of E-Verify requirement, Congress should move forward quickly and pass a bill that will fix our broken system.
A Taxing Issue
Lowering the deficit is a big deal for small businesses. They spend countless hours balancing their books and expect the government to do the same. But small businesses are pragmatic and realistic, and they know there must be give and take when it comes to our debt.
Our opinion polling found more than half of small businesses believe a plan to create jobs should be the top priority for Congress in 2013, instead of a plan to reduce the deficit. In light of our budget crisis, however, they believe everyone should pay their fair share in taxes. Sweeping majorities think loopholes that favor large corporations should be eliminated and three-quarters say their business is harmed when corporations use loopholes to avoid taxes. Bills including these policies are making their way through Congress and should be enacted posthaste.
Small businesses get a lot of lip service from politicians. As we reflect on small businesses this week, lawmakers should remember the hard work and compromises entrepreneurs have made over the decades. This week, and every week, policymakers should recall the president who proclaimed this event and ask themselves not what small businesses can do for them, but what they can do for small businesses. Our job creators, our economy and our country would be better off for it.
John Arensmeyer is the founder and CEO of Small Business Majority.