Last week on a plane to Chicago, I sat next to a man who was traveling to Oregon as I aimed the opposite way for North Carolina. He looked to be in his mid-50s, graying hair half-hidden beneath a worn baseball cap. It was a short, puddle-jumper flight from Indiana, so he told me about his family and business.

He’s worried about both. Jerry has two kids, and his daughter has launched into life with two grandbabies he was visiting in Indiana, but his 20-year-old son quit college, and his son’s girlfriend is about to have a baby girl.

Jerry enlisted in Vietnam—because his draft number was such that he’d get called up anyway, so he decided he’d at least pick his branch of service—and afterwards came back and became a trucker largely in the American Southwest.

He started driving one truck himself, and he now manages a small fleet of 12 to 15. Jerry said he hardly drives anymore because office work keeps him so busy, though he genuinely enjoys driving across the country. But it’s getting harder and harder for him to work: Government regulations and taxes have increased “since 2008″ he said, to the point where a small business can hardly afford to exist. Big businesses can just hire another lawyer to file papers and ensure compliance, but not him.

Looking at small business owner optimism in recent decades (more info here), he’s not the only one who feels this way.

NFIB Small Business Optimism Index

Before our flight touched down, Jerry said he doesn’t know if he can keep the business running until he retires. If he goes under, so do the 20 or so people working for him. His business is one of thousands in the same situation. Jerry is one of many hard-working people who fear they can’t hang on until help arrives.