After three months of slow growth, optimism among New Jersey small-business owners has retreated, declining 1.3 points in March, according to the latest report by the National Federation of Independent Business.
The biggest declines were in labor market indicators, inventory investment plans and sales expectations, the advocacy group said.
"Small businesses are not participating in the gains that we're seeing on Wall Street," said Laurie Ehlbeck, state director for NFIB's New Jersey chapter. "This is very weak economy by any standard, but it's much tougher for small businesses."
NFIB spokesman Jack Mozloom said the uncertainty in Washington is casting a pall over the small business sector.
"Whatever recovery there may be — the stock market booming, the Dow breaking records — small businesses are not participating in that," he said in prepared remarks. "Our members worry a great deal about tax regulations, health insurance, all the things the federal government seems to be screwing up lately."
In the March report, more than three-quarters of business owners reported they expect conditions to remain the same or get worse in the next six months. Of businesses trying to hire, 77 percent reported few or no qualified applicants. More owners are reducing rather than adding to inventories. Firms are still reporting more declines in sales than gains.
The NFIB surveys small-business owners monthly about their plans and opinions. The latest survey is based on the responses of 759 business owners in its membership.