New Research: Small Business Sentiment Stabilizes, Employees Fall Behind Financially; Employers have taken on debt to survive 2023

Moscow, Idaho ( Friday, January 12, 2024 at 12:15 PM Pacific —

January’s Freedom Economy Index, a joint survey of 70,000 small businesses by PublicSquare and RedBalloon, shows that after wave after wave of economic turbulence, U.S. small businesses appear to be in a “holding pattern,” cutting spending and adopt a wait-and-see attitude. -see approach.

Key findings

  1. The good? Sentiment may stabilize. Sentiment on the wrong track has fallen ever so slightly to pre-November levels, and the number of business owners who think we’re headed for a recession is the lowest since our August survey.

  1. The bad? Companies and employees are under financial pressure. One in three businesses will need to take on more debt to survive by 2023, and 70% of business owners say their employees and/or contractors will fall behind financially. Additionally, 60% reported that economic activity around Christmas was below expectations, and 77% say consumer confidence remains poor or poor.

  1. The ugly one? Inflation continues to persist as 73% report that their supplier prices continued to rise in December, and 53% of companies were forced to raise prices again last month.

Key quotes

“Despite all the bad news in 2023, Freedom Economy companies held strong,” said Michael Seifert, CEO of PublicSquare. “This is a good sign for the broader economy, as many of these businesses are located on ‘Main Street,’ are an integral part of their communities and are seen as the lifeblood of our American economic environment. Their resilience gives me optimism as we kick off 2024.”

“There is a glimmer of hope that 2024 will be better for small businesses,” said Andrew Crapuchettes, CEO of RedBalloon. “They have weathered high inflation, aggressive interest rates and a tight labor market. Those who survived will be stronger in the future.”

Detailed results

70% of small businesses report that their employees and/or contractors are falling behind financially in today’s economy.

37% of employers said they would need to take on more debt to survive in 2023, while 53% said they would need to maintain the same level of debt. Only 10% managed to reduce their debt burden by 2023.

80% of small business owners say they plan to make no major capital purchases this year, and 65% say they are not hiring or downsizing.

Sample of employers’ verbatim responses:

  • “We will remain stable unless we get more turnover. Then staff will be added.”

  • “I urgently need to hire people to operate effectively, but turnover is so low that I don’t know what to do.”

  • “No hiring. I just try to keep profits out of the red.”

  • “I just lost my last employee the week before Christmas. Now I do everything. I don’t have the money, after taxes and fees, to buy materials, let alone hire anyone.”

  • “Depending on the outcomes, we may have to lay off or close a business.”

In another sign of spending restraint, nearly half (44.3%) of small businesses say they plan to plan fewer business trips in 2024, while less than 10% say they plan to plan more.

When asked ‘How was general economic activity over the Christmas period’, 41.3% said it was ‘slower than normal’, while a further 27.7% said it was downright ‘poor’.

Another 59.7% reported that economic activity over the Christmas period fell below their expectations, while only 4.1% said it exceeded their expectations.

Small business owners’ optimism about the future of their businesses has remained steady rather than declining since November, and much lower than mid-summer figures.

And 76.3% say we are heading for a “major recession”, down 5 points from November, while another 14.69% think we are heading for a minor recession and 7.6% says we will avoid a recession but not grow.

93% still believe the US is on the “wrong track,” down slightly from the September/October highs.


The Freedom Economy Index surveyed more than 70,000 small business owners in the United States and responded to the survey from January 4 to January 10, 2024 with 964 respondents. The study has a margin of error of +/-3.0% at a 95% confidence level.

Download the January report here.

For an interview with PublicSquare CEO Michael Seifert and RedBalloon CEO Andrew Crapuchettes, contact Isaac Lopez at (208) 997–8013 or [email protected].

PublicSquare is America’s largest non-woke marketplace app with over 70,000 businesses and over 1.6 million active consumer members. They allow consumers to put purpose behind every purchase, from daily necessities to not-woke restaurants in their area.

Founded in 2021, RedBalloon has quickly grown into America’s largest “woke-free job board,” connecting employers and employees who prioritize a positive workplace culture, free from the divisiveness of cancel culture mandates.

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