Ashlee Rich Stephenson Ashlee Rich Stephenson
Senior Political Strategist, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


April 08, 2020


After we issued our U.S. Chamber-MetLife Small Business Poll late last week, we looked deeper in the data for any alarming trends to highlight as small businesses struggle with economic fallout caused by the coronavirus.

Beyond the main finding that a quarter of all small business owners estimate they have anywhere from less than a month to one-to-two months to operate without shutting down permanently, we found a datapoint that is highly relevant and disturbing. An alarming majority of small businesses who employ between 5 and 99 workers estimate they have less than six months until they anticipate closing operations permanently. Notably, this study was fielded from March 25-28, during the time frame in which the CARES Act was approved by Congress and signed into law.

How long do you believe your business can continue to operate without shutting down permanently?

To put the significance of this concern into greater context, it’s important to understand the critical role within our greater economy of businesses with 5 to 99 employees, along with the simple reason creating extreme vulnerability in the case of such a swift economic downturn.

A closer look at small businesses with 5 to 99 employees

There are approximately 2.2 million businesses in the United States with between 5 and 99 employees. Collectively, they employ 36.5 million workers, representing more than a quarter (28%) of America’s workforce.

If forecasts are correct as reported by the small business owners who participated in the statistically significant survey conducted by the U.S. Chamber and MetLife, this means nearly three out of ten (28%) American workers will be at risk of losing their current employment within the next six months or less. That would be 3.1% greater than the 24.9% unemployed at the height of the Great Depression.

And a loss of income may already be readily prevalent for those employed by businesses with payroll between 5 and 99 individuals. A plurality of small businesses with 5-19 (36%) and 20-99 (35%) employees cite they have “shortened my business’s house of operations” in the last two weeks, potentially resulting in wages already being cut for hourly workers.

Industries critical to our everyday lives are the most vulnerable

Small businesses who report having 5 to 99 employees cover the full spectrum of the necessities, goods, and entertainment Americans rely on in their daily lives. A rough estimate of firms that fall within the 5-99 employee parameter spans from the accommodations and food services industry, retail, repair companies, maintenance services, personal services, and wholesalers.

The likely driver behind the majority of small business owners who expect to shutter in less than six months is a simple reason and critical to the health of most financial endeavors: cash flow.

Estimated days of cash reserves by industry

Research conducted by a JPMorgan Chase Institute study reports the median small business has roughly 27 days of a “cash buffer,” meaning enough resources in the bank to operate for just less than a month if revenue were to come to a halt.

In addition, there are at least six small business industries who fall within the scope of 5-99 employees who reported having considerably fewer days of cash reserves than the median small business. Therefore, putting them squarely in an extraordinary position of vulnerability amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Among them are companies who fall within the categories of wholesalers, personal services, construction, repair and maintenance, and restaurants. Those industries alone employ more than 15.2 million individuals.

All figures are estimates.


Congress is considering action as soon as this Thursday to increase the funding available in the Payroll Protection Program, signaling the federal government clearly hears and is ready to respond to the concerns voiced by the entire business community. Our economy, our families, and the 48% of our workforce who are employed by small businesses are depending on it.

About the authors

Ashlee Rich Stephenson

Ashlee Rich Stephenson

Ashlee Rich Stephenson, is a senior political strategist and consultant for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Stephenson advises the Chamber’s political programming, which includes voter education and advocacy, candidate endorsements, and the U.S. Chamber PAC. She also helps develop and execute external issue advocacy campaigns to support the Chamber’s policy and legislative priorities.

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