11/04/2010 06:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Small Business Owners Struggle: 'How Do You Let Your Own Child Go?'

After more than 20 years of running a successful Mom-and-Pop real estate inspection business out of their home, Ann and Rick Runnels of Austin, Texas, said they brought their son Brandon on board, hoping one day they might be able to pass the business on to him. But after the housing bubble burst in 2007, the Runnels family business took a financial hit and they soon worried about how they were going to continue to pay their son's salary.

"How do you let your own child go?  He's 24, and he has a house payment that is dependent on that salary," Ann told Huffpost.  "That weighs on us the most. You're a mom first, you know, so it's not something you ever want to think about."

Runnels said while she and her husband are lucky to have savings to fall back on, but keeping their business afloat is a month-to-month struggle, and they have had to dip into some of those retirement savings in order to keep from laying off their son.

"He's been a great asset to the business, he and my husband laugh every day and cause trouble together, my husband loves working with him," she said. "It wouldn't weigh as heavily on me if we didn't have enough business to support a regular employee, but we look around and see other Mom-and-Pop inspectors having to lay off their sons. It must just be really tough."

The past three years have been particularly tough on small business owners, who have lost an estimated $2 trillion in profits since December 2007, according to an August study released by Barlow Research. Less than one in ten small business owners surveyed said they believe the recession is over, and 14 percent said it's unlikely that they'll still be in business a year from now.

"One in seven small business owners are estimating their chance of survival by the flip of a coin," said Bernie Kuechler, the author of the Barlow Research study.

Runnels said that while her business is surviving at the moment, she shares some of those long-term worries.

"We are a small business with good credit, but we can't get a small business loan as we don't have any collateral," she said. "Government, tell me how we are going to change this economy and make it better? Reassure me that the self-employed are not an endangered species. Show me that my child has a future and why bringing grandchildren into this world is a good idea."

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