A new report finds small business optimism is on the rise but many smaller firms in the Garden State continue to struggle to make a profit and find enough workers to hire.

Eileen Kean, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, known as NFIB, said the new NFIB Small Business Optimism Index rose 2.4 points last month, to 98.2, the first return to the average historical reading since November.

“We know how important optimism is because that’s what keeps the small store owners working hard and doing the best to keep their establishments moving forward so profits can be obtained," she said.

She said the Index report also shows many businesses are struggling to find people to hire, and some believe this may be due to increased unemployment benefits keeping some workers out of the labor force but she thinks there’s another important factor.

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“Parents with small children and school-aged children, they can’t comfortably go back to work when our schools aren’t open full time, when daycare is not available,” she said.

Kean also noted this problem is hurting sales.

“Folks are still in that ‘I have to stay home, I have to take care of my children’ mindset,” she said. “And often it means they’re getting out less and they continue to rely on home deliveries."

She said it was appreciated that Gov. Phil Murphy and Jersey lawmakers recently approved a plan to support child care centers, the arts, micro-enterprises and other small businesses with $100 million in grant money, but many smaller firms continue to struggle mightily.

“So we are looking for the Legislature ... to come up to $300 to $500 million more dollars,” said Kean.

She said this money is needed “so we can keep the backbone of New Jersey moving forward, because that’s our livelihood, that’s where so many of our state workforce is employed, it’s in those small Main Street shops."

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