One-Third of Small Businesses Worried About U.S. Trade Policy

While optimism among small business owners may be high, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t causes for concern. Take, for example, the United States’ trade policy that has resulted in several tariffs being enacted against imports from numerous nations and, in turn, tariffs imposed on outbound U.S. goods. Now the latest CNBC/SurveyMonkey small business survey finds that one-third of small business owners say they’re worried about the current trade tensions.

On top of that figure, 30% of those surveyed say they’re concerned that tariffs will bring higher costs while 4% fret losing access to foreign markets and 14% worry about equally about both issues. In response, 21% of respondents say they plan to make changes to their business due to tariffs while another 8% report already making adjustments. At the same time, 25% of business owners say that tariffs would help their business (34% said it would hurt). Interestingly — although not surprisingly — business owners who leaned to the right were more likely to say tariffs would help, with 40% saying as much. Meanwhile 65% of left-learning owners stated that tariffs would be bad for their businesses.

Trade debates aside, it should be noted that the poll also recorded a return to record high optimism, mirroring recent results found by Gallup and Wells Fargo. This time around the survey clocked small business optimism at a 62 on a scale of 0 to 100. That ties the all-time record first seen in the first quarter of this year before it fell slightly (mostly on trade concerns) in Q2. Speaking on the strong results, SurveyMonkey chief research officer Jon Cohen said, “This feels like a much more solid footing because of the assessment of how things are going today for small businesses, with 58% saying conditions are ‘good.'” Cohen went on to mention politics, noting, “Some of this is because of opinions of President Trump, with 57% saying they approve of the job he is doing. But really it’s the underlying business conditions that have been improving steadily throughout his term.”

Also similar to the results found by Gallup, 33% of business owners say they plan to increase their workforce over the next year. The problem is that businesses continue to have difficulty filling positions. In fact the study found 16% of small businesses surveyed had positions that had been open for at least three months. Even worse, 41% of operations with more than 50 employees reported the same problem.

Overall it seems that small businesses are fairly split when it comes to the topic of tariffs. Of course this is only logical as the U.S. trade policy can affect various verticals in very different ways. For example an American steel company may be re-energized by the tariffs on imports while those companies relying on steel to make their products may be feeling a pinch in their profitability. Perhaps what’s most amazing is that, despite these problems, optimism is still at record highs — if nothing else, hopefully that positivity continues to bring small business owners together.


Jonathan Dyer

I'm a small town guy living in Los Angeles looking to make solid financial decisions. I write for a number of finance websites, including HuffingtonPost and Business2Community. I founded in 2015 to focus on personal finance and the emerging FinTech markets.

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