More than five years after the end of the “Great Recession,” only 21 percent of small businesses* say they have fully recovered. During the recession, lack of sales ranked as the top problem small business faced. Taxes placed second, and “government regulations and red tape” placed third. And since 2012, at least one in five small business owners identify government regulations as their most important problem.
The reason for this is simple—small business owners directly feel the impact of federal regulation in the daily life of their businesses. The small business owner is often the main person in a business who bears the burden of complying with regulations and paperwork requirements. According to a 2010 study, small businesses spend $10,585 per employee on regulation, which amounts to 36 percent more per employee than larger companies spend.
With that as a backdrop, it is easy to see how small business owners continue to wonder why Washington just does not get it when it comes to regulation. For decades, Congress has sought to solve societal problems through mandates on business. Too many Americans without health insurance? Congress tries to solve that by requiring businesses to provide health insurance to their employees (regardless of whether or not they can afford it) or pay hefty penalties. Too many Americans unable to care for a sick relative? Congress seeks to address that by mandating that a business keep a position open three months out of every year for qualified employees, using a cumbersome reporting system.
Always entrepreneurial, with a keen focus on the bottom line, the American small business owner looks for ways to minimize the time and money spent on things other than running his or her business. Since many of these regulations wisely exempt the smallest of small businesses, some employers purposefully do not increase hiring because they do not want to have to comply with the regulatory regimes that await businesses that expand to 10, 15, and 50 or more employees.
America’s small business owners go into business with an idea to offer a product or service about which they are passionate. They start with the dream that they have the freedom to run their business their way. Then they find that the task of learning and complying with federal regulations soaks up more and more of the time and resources they need to invest for their business to thrive. For the American small business owner, the opportunity costs of federal regulation are all too often crowding out investment and hiring.
*Depending on the industry, a small business is generally defined as an employer with 500 or fewer employees.
Originally published in The Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index of Culture and Opportunity.