A Thanksgiving thanks to battered businesses

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What do you have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving?

It might sound trite, but God, family, country, and work top my “to be thankful for” list. But given the state of the economy over the past three years, that last one — work — might not be on this year’s Thanksgiving menu for millions of Americans, while it raises questions and worries for millions more.

Since Thanksgiving three years ago, the U.S. economy has lost more than 7.4 million jobs. And just since April of this year, the labor force has fallen by more than 800,000. The unemployment rate stands at 9.6%, more than double the 4.7% rate in November 2007.

A deep recession and poor recovery have taken their toll. And in midst of this economic mess, federal officials — namely, the Obama White House and Democratic majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate — have bashed business both rhetorically and in terms of imposing costly tax, regulatory and spending policies.

But if we want a resurgence in job creation, then next year’s new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, a narrower Democratic edge in the Senate, and President Obama will need to wipe away the hostility, and replace it with a positive business climate.

Indeed, it’s time to show some appreciation for the business community, and that includes the various industries that have been used as political punching bags in recent times, such as the energy, health care, financial, and food sectors.

As illustrated by the following employment data, thanks are warranted for the role that these industries play in our economy (2007 industry data from the U.S. Census Bureau is latest available). It’s also worth noting how many businesses in such industries rank as small enterprises in contrast to the critics who hurl the “big” business label in a derogatory manner.

For example, coal has been under assault by those subscribing to the manmade global warming theory and advocating government-mandated reductions in CO2 emission reductions. But coal not only is an affordable and abundant energy source, and therefore important to economic growth, but the nation’s 679 coal mining firms employ nearly 80,000 workers. In addition, 94% of these mining enterprises rank as small firms (i.e., employing fewer than 500 employees).

The oil and gas industry is not exactly a favorite of the current political leaders as well. Of course, providing the energy to run our vehicles, businesses and homes is critical for day-to-day life and work. Consider that the oil and gas-extraction industry features 6,528 firms (98% ranking as small businesses) that employ almost 142,000 people. For good measure, petroleum refineries number 258 (84% small firms) and employ over 64,000 workers. And more than 66,000 gas station firms — almost all small businesses — have a workforce of nearly 889,000.

On the health care front, the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry has served for years as a favorite target of those favoring big government health care. But shouldn’t it be recognized that these businesses create medicines that improve and save lives? In addition, the 1,502 pharmaceutical makers include 1,349 small firms, and the industry has a payroll of more than 241,000 people.

And as for health and medical insurers — particularly maligned during the political debate over ObamaCare — more than 1,000 firms employ in excess of 414,000 workers.

As for the financial industry, while ignoring the role bad public policy (i.e., laws and policies that detached mortgages and home ownership from economic reality) played in bringing about the credit mess that hit in late summer of 2008, politicians have since zeroed in on financial firms. For example, banks have been saddled with additional regulations. But the additional costs that come with such regulation translate into reduced access to credit for individuals and businesses, particularly smaller firms. As for the industry itself, more than 95% of commercial banks rank as small businesses. And these banks have 1.6 million employees.

Of course, state and local government officials also try to turn various industries into villains. The Nanny State’s health police, for example, have targeted soft drinks as no-noes. For example, writing for the Huffington Post on November 3, Susan Yager complained: “There is no question about it, smoking is bad for your health. But obesity is, perhaps, worse. And yet, we heavily tax tobacco but not soda, and are allowing Big Food to win the fight against an impactful soda tax.” Big Food?

Perhaps dietary decisions should be left to individuals, and are not the business of meddling government.

Keating, chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, can be reached at rkeating@sbecouncil.org.