If you’re like me, you’re seeking out any news that’s even a little positive about an eventual end to the pandemic and a return to normalcy. Well, I’ve got something for you.
According to a new survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, slightly more than half (50.4%) of small-business owners in Washington say their operations have already returned to normal levels, or they expect them to within the next six months.
Sure, that also means almost half of the state’s small business don’t see things improving much in the near future — or their business has already closed. But I’m choosing to look at the glass as half full rather than half empty.
This newest survey, which was conducted from March 15 to March 21, also marks the first time since May of 2020 that more than half of the small-business owners are this optimistic.
The survey results for Washington are similar to those for the U.S. as a whole. Nationally, the numbers are even a little better, with about 52% of small-business owners seeing a return to normal within six months. Before this month, that hadn’t happened since June of 2020.
In Washington, a combined 30% of small-business owners said that the pandemic either hadn’t affected their business that much, or that their business had already returned to normal levels by March — that’s a bit higher than the national average. And about 20% said that while things are still slow, they envision their business to fully bounce back within the next six months.
That’s the good news. But for the other half of small-business owners in Washington, things are looking more bleak.
About 43% think it will take longer than six months for things to get back to pre-pandemic levels. But at least they think it will eventually happen. Sadly, another 7% said they don’t think business will ever be the same, or they’ve already permanently shut their doors.
The data comes from the Small Business Pulse Survey, a new endeavor by the U.S. Census Bureau. It was initiated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to measure the effects of changing conditions on our nation’s small businesses. Unlike other census products, which have a long lag time, the Small Business Pulse Survey provides near real-time data — new results are released weekly.
The first survey results was released at the beginning of May 2020.
The data shows some other positive trends for Washington businesses. For example, when first surveyed, the majority (55%) of small-business owners here said that the pandemic was having a “large negative effect” on their business. In the most recent survey, nearly one year later, that number has dropped to 31%.
There are a couple other big improvements.
In the first survey, 32% of Washington small businesses had decreased the number of paid employees in the last week. In the most recent survey, 8% had laid folks off in the past week. Also in the first survey, 53% of the state’s small businesses had reduced the hours of their paid employees that week. In the most recent data, 13% had done so.
The Census Bureau has recently added some new questions to the survey, including ones regarding coronavirus tests and the vaccine. In the most recent data, only about 8% of Washington small businesses have required a negative test result of employees who must physically go to work. And hardly any small businesses — just 1% — required employees to have proof of vaccination.
Another new question asks about business travel, which some analysts have predicted will never return to pre-pandemic levels. Even so, the survey data for mid-March shows a sizable 31% of Washington small-business owners said they anticipated expenditures for airplane or train tickets, car rentals and lodging in the next six months.