D&B Reports, in New York City, conducts an annual survey in which several thousand small-business owners are asked whether or not they are optimistic about the outlook for their companies in the coming year.

Judging by the survey, confidence is at its lowest level in the past 12 years, including the early 1980s, when small companies were weathering a particularly punishing recession. Until last year, moreover, small-business confidence tended to rise and fall with the growth of the gross domestic product (GDP). For the past 2 years, however, small-business confidence plummeted even while the GDP grew.

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