October 2020

Business Exit During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Non-Traditional Measures in Historical Context

Leland D. Crane, Ryan A. Decker, Aaron Flaaen, Adrian Hamins-Puertolas, and Christopher Kurz

Abstract:

Given lags in official data releases, economists have studied "alternative data" measures of business exit resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Such measures are difficult to understand without historical context, so we review official data on business exit in recent decades. Business exit is common in the U.S., with about 7.5 percent of firms exiting annually in recent years, and is countercyclical (particularly recently). Both the high level and the cyclicality of exit are driven by very small firms. We explore a range of alternative measures and indicators of business exit, including novel measures based on payroll events and phone-tracking data, and find tentative evidence that exit has been elevated during 2020. Evidence is somewhat mixed, however, and exiting businesses do not appear to represent a large share of U.S. employment.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2020.089

PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: October 22, 2020