The coronavirus could crush American small businesses

Four in 10 small businesses have already temporarily closed due to coronavirus, the survey finds, with many expecting permanent closures in the coming months if the states’ lockdowns drag on. Restaurants and entertainment venues expect to be particularly hard hit, with most deeply pessimistic about their ability to come back from a shutdown of more than a few months…

The survey, conducted by a group of academic economists, covered over 5,800 small businesses—those with 500 or fewer employees—across the United States. Many of those firms have already closed or are shedding workers, with respondents reporting a 40 percent average reduction in payroll as compared with Jan. 31.

That shedding is likely to continue at least through the duration of the crisis, as small business owners report major concerns with both lessened demand and fears for the health of their employees. Many also do not have adequate cash reserves to weather a crisis: One in four do not have enough cash on hand to cover one month’s expenses, while one in two could only cover one to two months.

“These limited levels of cash on hand readily explain why layoffs and shutdowns have been so prevalent,” the paper notes.