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Census Bureau's Ongoing Small Business Pulse Survey

Cathy Roth
Posted by Cathy Roth on Feb 15, 2022 12:03:42 PM

Have you or your clients participated in the Census Bureau's Small Business Pulse Survey: Tracking Changes During the Coronavirus Pandemic (SBPS)? These experimental surveys started in April 2020 when the Census Bureau began asking small businesses a limited number of questions on topics around location closings, changes in employment, supply chain disruptions and other pandemic-related questions.

Since its launch, the Census Bureau has published data from more than 60 pulse surveys. 

What businesses were included in the Small Business Pulse Surveys and what questions were asked?

The Business Register in April 2020 was used to sample businesses that were non-farm, single-location employer businesses with 1-499 employees, more than $1,000 in receipts and located in the 50 states, District of Columbia or Puerto Rico. To alleviate hardship and survey fatigue, the Census Bureau invites over 90,000 enterprises to reply each week, reaching almost one million small businesses over each nine-week period.

To date, the SBPS has been broken into seven phases. 

Phase 1 gathered detailed information about operations and finances and assistance requests and receipt as well as subjective questions about overall well-being and expectation for recovery.

Phase 2 & 3 included the core concepts from the first phase, but also examined rehiring, work from home, use of online platforms to offer goods or services, and changes in business capacity. In addition, these phases expanded questions on federal financial assistance. 

Phase 4 & 5 retained most of the core concepts from previous phases, but also added questions on workplace COVID-19 testing and vaccination requirements, leased space changes, business travel plans, and impacts on capital expenditures.

Phase 6 included some of the previous phase questions but added questions around difficulties in hiring employees, new workplace norms, changes in demand for goods or services, and price changes from suppliers.

Phase 7, the most recent phase, reintroduced a question of cash on hand question and a new question about business practice changes resulting from the pandemic.

Current Results from the Small Business Pulse Survey

If you enjoy data, you can view all of the results from the current 63 pulse surveys. These results include the data, weekly comparisons, comparisons between filtered data (i.e., certain NAICS codes or specific states) and national data, and yearly comparisons.

The results that I found most interesting were the comparisons between January 2022 and January 2021. There are a few specific questions that might interest you to examine both in terms of your own practice and relating to your clients' businesses. 

To see the results, go to the Weekly Comparison tab and scroll down to the section for "Prior Year Comparison". Select Phase 7 which will compare responses to Phase 3 for ten different questions that were included in both phases. You can leave the comparison as is which allows you to compare national responses in the two periods. Then, you can pick one of the three comparison factors (state, NAICS, or MSA - Metropolitan Statistical Area) and select the specific filtering criteria.

Here are the questions that you might want to research further. The results may form the basis of an advisory conversation with your clients. 

1. Total Revenue - In the last month, what were the total operating revenues/sales/receipts for this business, not including any financial assistance or loans?

  • $0 - $500
  • $501 - $2,500
  • $2,501 - $5,000
  • $5,001 - $15,000
  • $15,001 - $50,000
  • $50,001 - $125,000
  • $125,001 - $200,000
  • $200,001 - $500,000
  • $500,001 or more
  • Don’t know

2. Change in Revenue - In the last week, did this business have a change in operating revenues / sales / receipts, not including any financial assistance or loans?

  • Yes, increased
  • Yes, decreased
  • No change

3. Cash on Hand - How would you describe the current availability of cash on hand for this business? 

When asked this question, respondents were able to select between cash on hand currently being able to cover:

  • 1-7 days of business operations
  • 1-2 weeks of business operations
  • 3-4 weeks of business operations
  • 1-2 months of business operations
  • 3 or more months of business operations
  • No cash available for business operations
  • Don’t know

4. Future Needs - In the next 6 months, do you think this business will need to do any of the following?

  • Obtain financial assistance or additional capital
  • Identify new supply chain options
  • Develop online sales or websites
  • Increase marketing or sales
  • Identify and hire new employees
  • Make a capital expenditure
  • Cancel or postpone a planned capital expenditure
  • Identify potential markets for exporting goods or services
  • Permanently close this business
  • None of the above

Note: According to the Census Bureau, "SBPS results are experimental data products and are subject to suppression based on overall response and disclosure avoidance thresholds. Data products may not meet some of the Census Bureau’s statistical quality standards."

Topics: Operational Advisory


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