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Census Survey: More Than Half of Small Businesses Don’t Expect Short-Term Recovery

  • More than half of respondents in Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey think it will take longer than six months to return to pre-pandemic normalcy, or that this won’t be possible
  • One-third say they will need additional financial assistance in the next six months, while a similar share hopes to ramp up their marketing and sales
  • Some data shows fewer disruptions to operating capacity, but a majority of companies are operating below pre-pandemic levels

Recent months have seen signs of a slowing economic recovery, but also more optimistic developments such as the revival of the Paycheck Protection Program to support small businesses, the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, and an expectation that the United States GDP will return to pre-pandemic levels later this year. However, small business owners remain wary in the Census Bureau’s latest Small Business Pulse Survey, with more than half expecting that it will either take more than six months to return to normal operating conditions or that these conditions will never return.

In the data for the week between Jan. 4 and 10, 46.5 percent said they think it will take more than six months to return to pre-pandemic normalcy while 7.1 percent said they did not think they will be able to return to pre-pandemic activity. A total of 19.2 percent said they think it will take less than six months for them to recover, while 16.5 percent said they have not experienced significant disruption, 8.9 percent said they have already returned to pre-pandemic levels, and 1.8 percent said their business has permanently closed.

About three-quarters of respondents said COVID-19 has had a negative effect on their business. Just 6.4 percent said the pandemic has helped their business.

The report showed some signs of stability, with 54.6 percent saying their had been no change in their revenues in the past week. A total of 64.6 percent said they had not experienced any problems such as shipping delays or finding suppliers in the past week, with a similar share reporting that their operating capacity – the maximum activity possible under realistic operating conditions – had been unaffected during this period.

Compared to the previous year, however, 33.4 percent said their operating capacity was down by less than 50 percent and 17.1 percent said their operating capacity was down by more than 50 percent. A total of 40.4 percent said they had seen less revenue in the past week.

Just 23.4 percent said they had enough cash on hand, including loans, for three or more months of expenses. About one in four had enough to get through one or two months of operations, while 4.5 percent had no cash on hand. One in 10 respondents said they have missed a regular payment such as rent, payroll, or utilities since March 13, 2020.

A total of 23.5 percent said they had decreased the hours worked by their employees in the past week, compared to just 3 percent that increased hours. While 3.4 percent said they had hired new workers, 12.4 percent had implemented layoffs.

About one-third of respondents said they believe they will need more financial assistance or capital in the next six months. Similar shares said they plan to increase their marketing and sales efforts during this period or that they don’t intend to make any changes.

PPP was a popular program among small businesses, with 74.6 percent seeking a loan since March 13 and 73.6 percent receiving one. A total of 25.9 percent sought an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, with 23.4 percent receiving one. While 17.1 percent tried to get loan forgiveness through the Small Business Administration, just 11.8 percent of all respondents received this relief.

A total of 18.5 percent said they had not requested any assistance during the pandemic. Twelve percent used personal funds to support their business.

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