NBER

Robert W. Fairlie

Bibliographic Information

NBER Working Paper No. 27309
Issued in June 2020
NBER Program(s):LS, PE, PR

Available Formats

Abstract

Social distancing restrictions and demand shifts from COVID-19 are expected to shutter many small businesses, but there is very little early evidence on impacts. This paper provides the first analysis of impacts of the pandemic on the number of active small businesses in the United States using nationally representative data from the April 2020 CPS – the first month fully capturing early effects from the pandemic. The number of active business owners in the United States plummeted by 3.3 million or 22 percent over the crucial two-month window from February to April 2020. The drop in business owners was the largest on record, and losses were felt across nearly all industries and even for incorporated businesses. African-American businesses were hit especially hard experiencing a 41 percent drop. Latinx business owners fell by 32 percent, and Asian business owners dropped by 26 percent. Simulations indicate that industry compositions partly placed these groups at a higher risk of losses. Immigrant business owners experienced substantial losses of 36 percent. Female-owned businesses were also disproportionately hit by 25 percent. These findings of early-stage losses to small businesses have important policy implications and may portend longer-term ramifications for job losses and economic inequality.

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