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America's small businesses are ready to give out some raises

The National Federation of Independent Businesses is out with its latest survey of small-business owners, and it shows optimism on the rise and close to pre-recession levels. But the overall news is really better than that, because owners' optimism is tempered by one thing that's excellent news for everyone else — companies are getting ready to pay people more.

More small businesses are handing out raises

National Federation of Independent Businesses

We still haven't reached the levels seen during the mid-aughts, to say nothing of the halcyon days of the 1990s, but this indicator has been heading in the right direction for a long time and is at least getting close to normal levels.

Small businesses are worrying more about recruiting

National Federation of Independent Businesses

Bosses aren't handing out raises just to be nice — they're worried about recruiting and retaining the best possible staff. You can see that small-business owners pretty much always complain about taxes, but concern with sales versus concern with labor quality bounce up and down. When the economy is in bad shape, people worry about sales. When it gets better, they worry about labor quality. Right now, labor quality has moved past sales for the first time in years, and it seems potentially poised to open up a large gap for the first time since the Clinton administration.

That's a hassle for some businesses but a huge opportunity for their employees, who now have a real shot to secure raises.