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The Impact of Covid-19 on Small Business Owners: The First Three Months after Social-Distancing Restrictions

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  • Robert W. Fairlie

Abstract

Social distancing restrictions and health- and economic-driven demand shifts from COVID-19 are expected to shutter many small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures, 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. 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 active business owners was the largest on record, and losses to business activity were felt across nearly all industries. African-American businesses were hit especially hard experiencing a 41 percent drop in business activity. Latinx business owner activity fell by 32 percent, and Asian business owner activity dropped by 26 percent. Simulations indicate that industry compositions partly placed these groups at a higher risk of business activity losses. Immigrant business owners experienced substantial losses in business activity of 36 percent. Female business owners were also disproportionately affected (25 percent drop in business activity). Continuing the analysis in May and June, the number of active business owners remained low – down by 15 percent and 8 percent, respectively. The continued losses in May and June, and partial rebounds from April were felt across all demographic groups and most industries. These findings of early-stage losses to small business activity have important implications for policy, income losses, and future economic inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert W. Fairlie, 2020. "The Impact of Covid-19 on Small Business Owners: The First Three Months after Social-Distancing Restrictions," CESifo Working Paper Series 8581, CESifo.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_8581
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Robert W. Fairlie & Alicia M. Robb, 2008. "Race and Entrepreneurial Success: Black-, Asian-, and White-Owned Businesses in the United States," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 026206281x, December.
    2. Aaron K. Chatterji & Kenneth Y. Chay & Robert W. Fairlie, 2014. "The Impact of City Contracting Set-Asides on Black Self-Employment and Employment," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 32(3), pages 507-561.
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    5. William D. Bradford, 2003. "The Wealth Dynamics of Entrepreneurship for Black and White Families in the U.S," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 49(1), pages 89-116, March.
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    8. Robert W. Fairlie, 2020. "The Impact of Covid-19 on Small Business Owners: Evidence of Early-Stage Losses from the April 2020 Current Population Survey," NBER Working Papers 27309, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Robert W. Fairlie & Frank M. Fossen, 2020. "Defining Opportunity versus Necessity Entrepreneurship: Two Components of Business Creation," Research in Labor Economics, in: Change at Home, in the Labor Market, and On the Job, volume 48, pages 253-289, Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
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    15. Robert W. Fairlie, 2013. "Entrepreneurship, Economic Conditions, and the Great Recession," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 22(2), pages 207-231, June.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    small business; entrepreneurship; business owners; self-employment; COVID-19; coronavirus; shelter in place restrictions; social distancing restrictions; minority business; female business;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • L26 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Entrepreneurship

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