Rebuilding Black-Owned Businesses After COVID-19

With over half of American adults now at least partially vaccinated, many of us are beginning to imagine a future beyond the pandemic. But for the many small businesses that didn’t survive, there’s no “after.”

Black-owned businesses have been especially hard-hit. That’s because even after three pandemic relief packages, there’s an elephant in the room that every resource, policy, and program is failing to address: the preexisting conditions of Black entrepreneurs.

Despite strong entrepreneurial traditions in Black America, the pre-COVID state of Black business — and indeed of Black economics generally — was itself in need of redress. In economic crises throughout our history, African Americans are impacted first and worst, yet they’re the last to recover. COVID-19 has been no exception.

The severity with which COVID-19 continues to ravage Black businesses has everything to do with this preexisting condition. A stronger recovery for Black business requires policymakers and resource providers to address not just the economic results of the COVID recession, but also these deeper inequalities.

Here are a few of them.

The business revenue pre-condition: Black entrepreneurship greatly increased between 1992 and 2012, from 3.6 percent of all firms to almost 10 percent. Yet even with Black entrepreneurship increasing almost threefold, the proportion of Black revenue decreased by half — from 1 percent to just 0.5 percent.

The income inequality pre-condition: For the last 50 years, Black Americans have received only about 60 percent of the income of white Americans. Even tripling the share of Black-owned businesses did little to change this.

This affects not just families, but entire businesses. Since most entrepreneurs use their social circles to begin growing their customer base, Black entrepreneurs are often forced to rely on a customer base with much less spending capital.

The wealth inequality precondition: According to the Federal Reserve, the median wealth for white households is $188,000, while the median wealth for Black households is just $24,000.  This lack of wealth steers Black entrepreneurs into industries that require less start-up capital — such as beauty, hair care, and social and health services. But these industries also are lower revenue businesses.

Black businesses have suffered terribly during the pandemic. But there’s not much to be gained by getting Black entrepreneurship back to the unstable, low-revenue normal that existed pre-COVID.

Instead, we must push Black entrepreneurship forward — so that it returns stronger after the pandemic and can weather whatever crisis comes next. We need policies, programs, and resources that target Black entrepreneurs and boldly address their pre-existing conditions.

In a new paper for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, we offer a few ideas.

First, we advocate direct stimulus payments to spur revenue growth for Black businesses, as well as a new system of partners and resources to support Black-owned, Black-led banks and institutions that can deliver capital for these enterprises.

We also support greater transparency in data collection for small business lending. We need to hold financial institutions accountable for historic discrimination in their lending and credit practices.

Finally, we support making unemployment benefits permanently available to self-employed people who lose their income. And we urge a transition to universal health care that will benefit Black Americans, entrepreneurs, and the nation as a whole.

In this crisis is an opportunity to address the racial economic inequality that consistently keeps too many Americans one crisis away from a disaster.

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad is the chief of Race, Wealth, and Community at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.