Summer break is ideal for relaxing, spending time with family and friends, and soaking up some sun on vacation. But it also offers an opportunity to catch up on projects that may have fallen through the cracks, and one much needed project that members of Congress have neglected is getting to know the small business owners they represent.
Small businesses all together indeed have an outsized impact on our economy. They represent more than 99 percent of all employer firms in the United States, have generated 62 percent of all net new private sector jobs since the Great Recession, and pay 44 percent of total payrolls. Yet, their needs are often overlooked by Congress in favor of the largest corporations. Meanwhile, small business owners are facing hikes in health care coverage, crippling predatory lending practices and minimal or no savings from tax cuts that were advertised as a lifeline for entrepreneurs. This imbalance in benefits might be corrected if elected officials would actually take the time to meet the people whose lives they impact.
Luckily, while members of Congress are home this summer they will not have to look too hard to find small businesses. When an elected official takes their kids to an ice cream shop in their district, they could take a few minutes to ask the employees about their challenges with health care. Or if a member of Congress has a home repair project on their to do list, they could ask the owner of their local hardware store about the challenges he or she faces as a business owner. The next time a member goes to get his or her teeth cleaned before a television appearance, they should consider asking the dentist how he or she feels during tax season. Lawmakers just might learn something this way, even gaining new perspectives on issues.
These attempts at small business outreach sound simple, but a new Small Business Majority scientific opinion poll found that only 12 percent of small business owners said they feel their government officials have a strong understanding of the issues they face. The poll found health care costs, access to capital, and taxes are among the top challenges facing small business owners. However, they reported feeling as though their representatives in Congress were more focused on special interests and the desires of big businesses than the needs of local businesses.
If Congress would actually talk to small business owners instead of just talking about them, they would meet people like Mike Spellman, who owns an auto body shop in California and has trouble retaining skilled employees. Or Shayai Lucero, a florist on a Native American reservation in New Mexico who has to go to her local casino just to get internet. Or Tracy Ducharme, who owns a Color Me Mine franchise in Colorado and wishes she could afford to give her employees paid parental leave.
Legislation has already been introduced that would help each of these entrepreneurs, but those measures have not advanced, perhaps because voices like these are not being heard in Congress. Most small firms do not have the time or resources to visit Washington or to hire lobbyists. They worry about payroll rather than politics. That is why lawmakers must go to them if they want to bring about real and significant changes that would benefit our job creators. Small business owners should be able to trust that their representatives have their best interests in mind, but how can they when lawmakers do not even know what those interests are?
John Arensmeyer is the chief executive officer of Small Business Majority.