It would be easy to look at the state of the economy and conclude that we haven’t made much progress in our struggle to return to prosperity.
While the unemployment figures show some signs of improvement, they could be illusory in that so many people have just plain given up looking for work.
Productivity and housing figures just don’t give very conclusive encouragement for optimism.
On the other hand, the stock market burst through the 15,000 mark and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, even if the causes of the acceleration are filmy at best. Economists would surely feel better about the unrelenting upward trend if they could only point to the reasons for it.
This all appears to add up to just as much uncertainty on the economy as polls have claimed for the last couple of years.
A recent survey by American Express found that small businesses — particularly those in New York state — not only don’t see or foresee a dramatic economic turnaround, they have begun to believe one isn’t coming. What we’re seeing now is what we’ll have to live with from now on.
The survey is conducted by what’s called American Express Open, which claims to be the leading payment-card issuer for small businesses in the United States.
The most striking finding in the survey was that 57 percent of small-business owners in New York now believe the current economy is the “new normal.” That compares with 52 percent nationally and 51 percent in the Northeast.
Two-thirds nationally, regionally and in the state are still stressed out over the economy, and slightly over half have a positive outlook. Only a third nationally (40 percent in New York) believe the economy is recovering.
Yet almost 4 out of 5 on all levels still feel the American dream is attainable. And 4 out of 5 plan to increase their businesses in the next six months, though only one-third plan to hire, plan to give raises and expect higher sales over the next six months.
Nationally, only 45 percent offer employees health-care coverage; 51 percent in the Northeast, but 68 percent in New York. That seems to reflect the recent debates school districts are having over employee benefits in light of state and taxpayer directives to be more frugal in spending on health care.
If these business leaders are right — and who sees better the practical applications of economic trends than owners of small businesses? — then talk of recovery is hollow. This could be the new environment in which we are all operating. Businesses have learned to conduct their affairs in a leaner setting, in which revenues are thinner and, thus, so are expenses.
We hope that, in terms of recovery, there’s more to come. These experts say make the best of what you have, because it may be all you’re going to get.