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Startups in the United States during the pandemic reflect some dynamism amid job losses

Simeon Djankov (PIIE) and Eva (Yiwen) Zhang (PIIE)

Policy Briefs 21-9


New business applications have surged in the United States since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The growth is driven largely by startups in online retail, transportation, and personal services. Many of these new entrepreneurs are self-employed and were likely laid off and forced into entrepreneurship by necessity. No official data are available yet on the number of businesses destroyed in 2020, because business data for firms that close without entering bankruptcy are lagging. But the authors calculate that firm births may have surpassed firm deaths during the pandemic. While this boom in business entry is a tribute to the adaptability and potential innovative spirit in US capitalism, one should not be overly optimistic about jobs created in this wave of startups. As many of these new startups are by people forced to strike out on their own, the number of jobs created per new firm is even smaller than it was during previous US recessions. And like online businesses started around the last recession (e.g., Uber, Airbnb, and Venmo), some of these new firms may turn out to be major contenders in their sectors, displacing workers employed by their traditional rivals.

Data Disclosure:

The data underlying this analysis can be downloaded here [zip].

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