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Pandemic sees new business formation surge

Prof. John Haltiwanger uses Census data to analyze trends

Applications for new businesses from the U.S. Census Bureau’s monthly and weekly Business Formation Statistics (BFS) fell substantially in the early stages of the pandemic but then surged in the second half of 2020. This surge has continued through May 2021. The pace of applications since mid-2020 is the highest on record (earliest data available is 2004). The large increase in applications is for both likely new employers and nonemployers. These patterns contrast sharply with those in the Great Recession when applications for likely new employer businesses and in turn actual startups of employer businesses declined sharply and persistently. The surge in new business applications has been uneven across sectors. Ten 3-digit NAICS industries account for 75% of the surge. Dominant industries include Nonstore Retail (alone accounting for 33% of the surge), Professional, Scientific and Technical Services, Truck Transportation, and Accommodation and Food Services. Given that existing small businesses in Retail Trade and Accommodation and Food Services have suffered especially large declines in the pandemic, these patterns are consistent with restructuring induced by the pandemic.

See the NBER working paper (28912)


John C. Haltiwanger. (2021). "Entrepreneurship during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence from the Business Formation Statistics," in Josh Lerner and Scott Stern, editors, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Policy and the Economy, Vol 1, University of Chicago Press