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Data: NFIB; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Small business owners' optimism pulled back slightly during May.

Why it matters: Small businesses were hit hard during the pandemic, but optimism had grown in each of the prior three months. The slight pullback last month appears to stem largely from hiring challenges — offering yet another data point on how labor issues are playing out across the country.

The details: The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index eased by 0.2 points in May, to 99.6, from April.

  • The index is up from a reading of 95 in January, but down from 104 in the fall.
  • The reading is about 2 points above the historical average.

What they’re saying: "This tells me that overall small business sentiment is still elevated, and we continue to see increases in consumer activity as things are opening up and spending gains,” Sharon Miller, head of small business at Bank of America, tells Axios.

Yes, but: Finding quality employees continues to be challenging.

  • About 93% of those trying to hire reported few or no "qualified" applicants for the positions they were trying to fill.
  • A net 34% of owners reported raising compensation in May, up 3 points from April. That’s the highest level of the past 12 months.

The bottom line: As the economy strengthens, small businesses are still forging ahead with their growth and reopening plans.

  • About 27% plan to make capital outlays, steady from the prior month.
  • And 27% plan to make hires, up from 21%.

Go deeper

Rep. Joyce Beatty: Biden administration key in supporting Black-owned businesses

Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) said at an Axios event Tuesday that the Biden administration has been key to helping Black-owned small businesses through the pandemic.

Why it matters: The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated economic inequities minority workers and business owners already faced, widening racial disparities, Axios' Hope King writes.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

CNN fires Chris Cuomo

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN

CNN said Saturday evening it has fired one of its star anchors, Chris Cuomo, following new revelations from a legal review made by the company into Cuomo's involvement in the management of his brother's sexual harassment scandal.

Why it matters: Saturday's firing speaks to how much pressure CNN was under by employees and critics to address Cuomo's behavior.