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Weekly Census Bureau Survey Provides Near-Real-Time Info on Businesses

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The first results from the new U.S. Census Bureau Small Business Pulse Survey released today show a large negative effect from COVID-19 for the majority (51.4%) of respondents and an expectation that it will take more than six months for their businesses to return to normal.

The survey, conducted by email, is intended to provide crucial weekly data on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the nation’s businesses. Results are displayed as data visualizations.

An average 31.4% expect more than six months will pass before their business returns to its usual level of operations.

The survey was delivered to 100,915 small businesses in Week 1. Key findings from the 22,449 who responded from April 26-May 2:

Overall, how has this business been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Of the U.S. businesses surveyed in the accommodation and food services sector, 83.5% experienced a negative effect from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In your opinion, how much time do you think will pass before this business returns to its usual level of operations?

An average 31.4% expect more than six months will pass before their business returns to its usual level of operations.

In the last week, did this business temporarily close any of its locations for at least one day?

An average 41.4% temporarily closed a location for at least one day.

Of note, an average 72.2% of businesses in the educational services sector, 62.4% in healthcare and social assistance sector, and 70.8% in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector temporarily closed a location for at least one day.

In the last week, did the business have disruptions in its supply chain?

An average 44.9% reported ‘yes,’ there were disruptions in the supply chain. 

In the retail trade sector, an average 65.8% reported disruptions in its supply chain as did 49.6% of the manufacturing sector and 61.4% in the health care and social assistance sector.

Survey Updated Weekly

Data will continue to be posted every Thursday. Beginning this week, we are releasing data showing the impact on sectors at the national and state level including data for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. 

In future weeks, the results will show the impact on sectors by state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico for the 50 most populous metropolitan areas.

The Small Business Pulse Survey is one of two new weekly experimental data products fielded by the Census Bureau in April 2020 as a rapid response to the pandemic.

The two surveys, as well as the recently launched weekly Business Formation Statistics, represent the Census Bureau’s response to the urgent need for accurate, real-time data on the U.S economy and population.

The Small Business Pulse Survey includes information on location closings, changes in employment, disruptions in the supply chain, the use of federal assistance programs, and expectations concerning future operations.

For the duration of the survey, each week, over 100,000 small businesses will be invited to respond to a short, 16-checkbox survey estimated to take five minutes or less to complete. It is expected to reach approximately 885,000 small businesses over nine weeks with an expected end date of July 9, 2020.

Collaborators on the Small Business Pulse Survey included the Small Business Administration and Minority Business Development Agency, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among others.

The Census Bureau defines small businesses as single business locations with one to 499 employees and at least $1,000 in annual revenue.

More Surveys Provide Near Real-time Data

The Household Pulse Survey is the second weekly product fielded by the Census Bureau in response to COVID-19. It will gauge the impact of the pandemic on employment status, consumer spending, food security, housing, education disruptions, and dimensions of physical and mental wellness. In addition to emailing respondents, the Census Bureau will also utilize texting for Household Pulse. Results from that survey are expected the third week of May 2020.

In addition, last month the Census Bureau rolled out a weekly, more localized version of its Business Formation Statistics (BFS) to address the nation’s need for accurate, current information on the health of U.S. businesses.

Initially released as a quarterly, experimental product in February 2018, BFS tracks trends in business applications and formations at the state, regional, and national level. The new weekly data provide timely and granular information on the state of the economy.

The ability to understand how individuals and businesses are weathering the current crisis is critical given business disruption, stay-at-home orders, school closures, changes in the availability of consumer goods and consumer patterns, and other abrupt and significant changes to American life. 

With the new weekly Pulse and BFS surveys, the Census Bureau is answering the call for relevant, reliable, and timely data at this crucial moment in America’s history.

More information on Census Bureau announcements relating to COVID-19 is available.


Jane Callen is the senior writer/editor in the Census Bureau's Communications Directorate.


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Page Last Revised - March 25, 2022
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