WASHINGTON — The recovery for retail small businesses from the Great Recession has been slower and more challenging than past downturns, with many business owners citing current economic conditions as the single largest challenge they face, according to a new survey released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation.
In addition to economic conditions, more than one-third of those surveyed said they would be negatively impacted by new overtime and flexible work schedule proposals, as well as a $15 minimum wage.
The survey, conducted by the market research firm GfK for the NRF between December and January, included 752 retail small business owners across the country and across a broad range of demographic factors.
The economy was cited as the most significant challenge for two out of five retail small business owners, according to the survey. Some 38 percent of the respondents said the national or state economy was the biggest challenge facing their businesses, while 17 percent cited competition and 9 percent cited the cost of labor.
“Since the end of the recession, business loans above $1 million have increased but the volume of small business loans below $1 million has not returned to pre-recession levels, according to the FDIC,” the survey said. “A number of factors likely contributed to the stagnation of funding options, including the consolidation of financial institutions, tighter lending standards and new regulatory efforts under the Dodd-Frank Act. Whatever the cause, small business owners have yet to return to the financial flexibility and easier access to credit of pre-recession times.”
There are 28 million small businesses in the U.S., representing approximately 99.7 percent of all U.S. employers, according to the survey. Of the 1.1 million retail businesses in the U.S., 98 percent employ fewer than 100 people and 95 percent operate just one location.
While five percent of the respondents cited federal government regulations, rules and mandates as their single most important challenge, 75 percent of the companies said regulations have increased in the past several years as have compliance costs.
Overregulation is undermining the resolve of small retailers,” said Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer at the NRF. “To fulfill their role in driving the American economy, small businesses need the freedom to make the decisions that make sense for them instead of being burdened by one-size-fits all mandates.”
Some 64 percent said the compliance costs tied to government regulation have risen over the past few years. Another 24 percent of the small business owners surveyed said government regulations have stayed about the same.
On the topic of a $15 minimum wage, 37 percent of those surveyed said such a rate would “would threaten their very existence of their business or cause their business to fail.”
Two states — New York and California — recently signed legislation that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a multiyear timetable and several other states have also taken steps to raise their wage levels in general.
The survey found those small businesses the “most likely” to shut their doors in response to a $15 an hour minimum wage are retailers with fewer than 50 employees, one location and those located in rural areas.
Asked how an increase in the salary threshold for overtime pay (a proposed rule by the Department of Labor) to $970 a week or $50,440 annually would affect their businesses, some 44 percent said such a move would either put them out of business, threaten their existence or negatively impact their business.
According to the survey 59 percent of the businesses said a proposed regulation to fine companies that allow flexible employee schedules would “hurt their businesses.”
From the workers’ perspective, an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, an expansion of those eligible for overtime and a more steady work schedule are key to a better standard of living, according to Rachel Laforest, director of the Retail Action Project for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, (an affiliate of the UFCW).
“In terms of workers, we’re talking about more than a half a million workers who are currently making $9 an hour in New York and will see that jump by $6 an hour over the next three years,” Laforest said. “It means the difference for people who have to choose between putting food on the table or putting a little aside for emergencies in order to ensure the rent is paid on time or for co-pays for monthly health insurance.”
She also noted that flexible work scheduling that forces workers to be “on-call” has hurt part-time workers, who face significant challenges, such as planning child care or even finding other part-time work to be able to finance the cost of daily living, when their hours are not set in advance.