The phrase "The only certain thing in life is that nothing is certain" comes courtesy of Pliny the Elder, an ancient Roman philosopher and military commander. And it seems fitting nearly 2,000 years later as a description of today's economy.
Over the last few months, I've written that the economy was showing signs of stabilization, but I wasn't ready to call it a recovery. In light of this month's SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard, I'm glad I haven't.
While the national data shows 3.9 percent hiring growth year-to-date, similarly positive regional hiring numbers and acceptable optimism among our small business customers, the average paycheck dipped by 0.4 percent year-to-date.
June marks the first month this year with negative year-to-date paychecks. In fact, pay across the nation hasn't been this low since October 2005.
These numbers disrupt a pattern of paycheck stability we saw over the last few months. The question is whether we've hit the lowest point or if there's still room to fall. We may be bouncing around the bottom. Then again, we may not be.
As business owners navigate the economy, they must contend with even more uncertainty beyond employment facts and figures. The Gulf Oil Spill, a gyrating stock market, pending financial reform legislation, and severe summer weather—external forces such as these have the power to disrupt the decision-making processes at many businesses.
Economic uncertainty stops everyone from spending and lending. Until business owners feel certain about economic stabilization, they won't drastically boost hiring or offer employees more hours and pay. And until consumers feel secure in their jobs, they won't spend more.
So I'll stick to my earlier predictions that we're likely many months away from a full-blown recovery, that there's too much uncertainty to be certain about anything. My advice: Be cautious and deliberate in running your business. You don't want to stick your neck out just yet.
MICHAEL ALTER is president of SurePayroll, America’s leading online payroll service. He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Northwestern University. @michaelalter