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Tracking U.S. Small Business During the Pandemic Crisis

Updated on March 17, 8:19 AM EDT

What You Need To Know

Small businesses, the beating heart of the U.S. economy, started the new year facing surging coronavirus infections and tighter government restrictions on activity. They’re also getting additional federal help, following a months-long stalemate in Washington over a new pandemic-relief package to prop up the ailing economy. The lifeline that was overdue for many business owners struggling to get by: Optimism among small businesses slumped to an eight-month low in January.

The new round of $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans, which started Jan. 11, is attempting to correct the confusion and fraud seen last year. The Small Business Administration tried to target the types of businesses that were left behind during the initial $523 billion PPP, including tiny firms owned by minorities and those in low-income areas that aren’t served by the traditional banking system. But more than two-thirds of the borrowers in the fresh round are business owners getting a second loan. As of March 7, about 2.4 million loans have been approved, worth $164 billion. The average loan size, at about $68,000, is down from $101,000 last year.

By The Numbers

  • 30 Million Number of small businesses in the U.S. before the pandemic. They employed about half of the country's private workforce.
  • 7.55 Million Paycheck Protection Program loans distributed since the program started last year, worth $687.4 billion.
  • -32.4% The decline in small-business revenue as of March 3, compared with January 2020, according to Opportunity Insights.

Why It Matters

The rollout of small-business relief loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, had a rocky start in April, criticized for giving funds to large firms and favoring certain states. The gap closed during the second round, but big-name law firms, religious organizations and companies connected to President Donald Trump and other politicians were among the thousands of loan recipients that took part in the federal government’s largest coronavirus relief program, according to data disclosed by the government on July 6. Here’s a look at where the money went in 2020:

Where $521 billion in U.S. small-business aid went

Keeping small businesses afloat is central to efforts to shore up the economy. Those companies, typically with fewer than 500 employees, contributed almost two-thirds of net employment gains in the U.S. from 2000 to 2018, according to the Small Business Administration, the agency that oversees their relief program. The tiniest firms, with staff of 20 or less, employ more than 20 million people in the country.

Small businesses’ voices are rarely heard in Washington, where they can’t match the muscle that big corporations wield on Capitol Hill. Tracking where the financial aid is going and whether it’s trickling down to those who need it most is challenging — but it is key to understanding how Covid-19 may redefine the fabric of the economy.

For more resources on how to run a business in the age of Covid-19, check our Bloomberg Businessweek small-business survival guide here and profiles of entrepreneurs who have recently launched new businesses here.

Have a tip about how virus relief funds are used or misused? Write us at, or follow instructions to submit an anonymous tip at

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