Federal Reserve Bank of New York, AARP
First published April 2021
The economic toll of COVID-19 on America’s small businesses is acute and ongoing. Uncertainty related to public health protocols, consumer demand, technology adoption, supply chains, and government relief programs has upended the operating environment for small firms that frequently lived on the financial margins even before the pandemic. This is especially true for small firms owned by people 45 and older, which saw significant closures in spring 2020 and whose numbers remain well below pre-pandemic levels. Among people of color, the drop was even more stark.
Business ownership has the potential to be a financial bulwark, especially for business owners of color. Age 45+ business owners entered the pandemic with much stronger financial cushions than similar age employees and business owners under the age of 45. However, our analysis of survey data for small employer firms collected in late 2020 and detailed interviews with 25 business owners finds that older small business owners, and particularly business owners of color, had difficulty accessing funds to stay open and have experienced significant personal financial hardship during the pandemic. The future of these businesses—and the owners’ personal financial lives—is particularly salient, given that they are the lion’s share of small businesses.