By Reps. Sam Graves, Steve Chabot, and Scott Tipton
Although we've seen signs of a slowly improving economy, we must remember that our nation's potential is far better than this. Despite the improved unemployment rate, there is a combination of data points that is cause for concern.
April's 165,000-job gain is slower than previous months, and the underemployment rate -- which includes those who have stopped looking or settled for part-time work -- is a high 13.9 percent. April's labor force participation rate, like March's, remained at 63.3 percent, its lowest level since 1979. If the labor force participation rate had not declined from 2009, the unemployment rate would be 10.9 percent instead of 7.5 percent.
To address our sluggish economy, Washington should focus on creating a better environment for private-sector job growth and removing barriers for businesses, especially small businesses, to grow and create jobs. Part of this focus should include helping small businesses enter the trade marketplace.
May is World Trade Month, an appropriate time to evaluate how strong our nation's trade agenda is proceeding. Although 96 percent of the total business market exists outside the United States, only 1 percent of small businesses currently export. The Department of Commerce has concluded that many small and medium-size businesses could sharply boost exports by entering new markets. There is great potential here.
Small businesses play an important role in our economy, and they should play a more important role in the U.S. trade strategy. In 2012, total U.S. exports reached $2.2 trillion, which is nearly 14 percent of the gross domestic product. Those exports helped support nearly 10 million jobs, including about 4 million small-business jobs.
Engaging the export market provides great return on the investment for small companies. A United States International Trade Commission survey found that exporting small and medium-size manufacturers in 2009 had more than twice the total revenue of their non-exporting counterparts. And they experienced revenue growth of 37 percent from 2005 to 2009, while total revenue declined by 7 percent for non-exporting small and medium-size manufacturers over the same period.