What Worries Americans, Small Businesses Most? Polls Show

Small-business owners say healthcare costs – possibly tied to Obamacare – and taxes on their businesses are hurting their operating environment the most, and the biggest factor that is hurting Americans' finances are food and energy prices, new Gallup polls show.

Fifty-four percent of small-business owners say healthcare costs are hurting their operating environment "a lot," according to a January Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business survey released Friday. The second most hurting factor – among eight issues tested – is taxes on small businesses, at 53 percent, followed by the price of energy, government regulations, and the federal debt ceiling.

The worry about healthcare costs is "likely tied – at least in part – to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and its potential impact," according to Dennis Jacobe, Chief Economist at Gallup. "Small-business owners are trying to keep their workforces under 50 employees so they are exempted from key parts of the act and in this regard are reducing employee hours so they are not counted as full time," Jacobe says.

The National Federation of Independent Business was one of the main plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the healthcare law's individual mandate. The tax credits it provides to help small businesses are relatively narrow and have not been claimed widely.

"More generally, it appears small-business owners' optimism has recovered somewhat since turning negative after last year's presidential election. This may be due to the partial resolution of the issues surrounding the fiscal cliff and, perhaps, to the increase in consumer confidence in mid-January," Jacobe adds.

Another Gallup survey released Friday shows that Americans are most concerned about the prices of essentials such as food and fuel. Seventy-nine percent of Americans say the price of energy, including gas, is hurting their family's finances a lot or a little, according to results based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 21-22 on the Gallup Daily tracking survey with 1,016 adults nationally.

Seventy-six percent say the price of food – out of a list of nine economic issues – is hurting them a lot or a little, followed by taxes, at 69 percent, and healthcare costs, at 68 percent. In addition to energy, food, taxes, and healthcare, the federal debt ceiling is the only other situation that more than half of Americans say is hurting them financially. This relatively high level of negativity about the debt ceiling is partly attributable to the views of Republicans, 74 percent of who say it is hurting their finances, compared with 54 percent of independents and 48 percent of Democrats, according to the poll.

Americans appear relatively unaffected by the availability of credit or immigration policies. Only 38 percent said immigration policies were hurting their families' finances, and 30 percent said this about the availability of credit.

"These results provide clear insights into the areas that are causing Americans the most financial pain," notes Gallup Editor Frank Newport. "Leaders, including elected representatives, may find that actions aimed at reducing the costs of life necessities – energy, food, and healthcare, along with reducing taxes – could have the greatest impact on Americans' financial situations."

While the government or its agencies may have more direct control over things like credit, immigration, federal spending, and regulations, these have less of a direct impact on Americans' family finances, Newport says.

However, the federal debt ceiling does seem to have an effect on families with over half of Americans saying it currently hurts them.

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