By Alexis Glick
As the COVID-19 health emergency has been unfolding, I’ve been doing some writing and media appearances talking about a group of people I care passionately about—namely, the millions of underserved children in the United States who depend on the U.S.D.A.’s school lunch and school breakfast programs for the lion’s share of their daily nutrition, and who risk hunger and food insecurity when public schools are forced to close for health reasons.
Thankfully, the U.S.D.A., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the School Nutrition Association, the Food Research and Action Center, and numerous NGOs and national and local nonprofits like my own are focused on that issue, and are helping to figure out creative solutions during the shutdown. That’s good news. (My own organization’s COVID-19 Emergency School Nutrition Fund launched on March 30th can be accessed here.)
That has allowed me to momentarily turn my attention to another group for whom the effects of coronavirus hold the potential of being devastating: the men and women of America’s small business community and their families.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy
According to 2019 figures from the Small Business Administration, small businesses employ nearly 60 million Americans, or 47.3% of the private workforce. Many of those people are part-time employees, and many of them do not have paid sick leave.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of the U.S. economy: they create two-thirds of net new jobs and drive U.S. innovation and competitiveness. SBA figures document that small businesses account for an astonishing 44% of all U.S. economic activity.
Without belittling the hits that large corporations take when the economy comes to a standstill for weeks or months, in truth, it’s small businesses—restaurants, retail, hospitality, travel, skilled laborers, service providers of all kinds—who tend to be hit hardest in times like these. They simply don’t have the reservoirs of cash on their balance sheets that the big corporations and publicly traded companies have.
A hiatus that lasts weeks or months can put the best-managed Main Street small enterprise out of business, and it’s precisely small business owners and their employees who are least likely to have a personal financial cushion to soften the fall.
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Small business owners, founders, and hardworking employees often don’t get the credit they deserve. In many ways, large and small, they have built our country into what it is today. American small business owners represent a powerful legacy: many today are the children and grandchildren of immigrants and “greatest generation” visionaries who took risks that only entrepreneurs understand, dedicated themselves to what we used to call the American dream, made successes of their enterprises, enriched and stabilized their communities, raised their families, and supported city, state, and national growth by billions paid in taxes.
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