Jul 8, 2020 - Economy & Business

The myth of closing the racial wealth gap through entrepreneurship

Adapted from Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; Chart: Axios Visuals

Entrepreneurship or starting a business has often been heralded as a way to reduce the U.S. racial wealth gap. However, Black Americans' attempts at entrepreneurship are often foiled by an initial lack of capital and an inability to obtain financing, especially through government programs.

The big picure: This was most recently evidenced when Black-owned small businesses were largely shut out of financing from the SBA's Payroll Protection Program.

What's happening: A 2017 report (the latest available) from the Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) found...

  • Minority-owned businesses pay higher interest rates on loans than white-owned businesses.
  • Further, minority-owned firms have less than half the average amount of recent equity investments and loans than white-owned firms, even among those with $500,000 or more in annual gross receipts.

By the numbers: According to the Federal Reserve Bank’s 2016 report on minority firms, "40% of firms owned by people of color received the full amount of capital sought, compared to 68% of nonminority-owned firms."

  • "Black-owned firm application rates for new funding are 10 percentage points higher than white-owned firms, but their approval rates are 19 percentage points lower."
  • "Forty percent of nonapplicant Black-owned firms did not apply for financing because they were discouraged (i.e., they did not think they would be approved), compared with 14% of white-owned firms and 21% of Hispanic- and Asian-owned firms."

One level deeper: The Atlanta Fed's 2019 report on minority-owned firms found that even though Black-owned businesses were the highest percentage of firms expecting revenue growth and employment growth over the next 12 months, they were significantly less likely to get loans.

  • In 2018, 81% of Black-owned businesses expected to see revenue growth in the next year compared to 72% of white-owned firms.
  • Black-owned businesses also saw the most significant growth in share of firms that went from breaking even or operating at a loss to making a profit between 2016 and 2018.
  • And 60% of Black-owned firms expected to increase employee headcount in the next year, compared to 43% of white-owned firms.

Reality check: "A review of national and regional studies over several decades indicates that limited financial, human, and social capital as well as racial discrimination are primarily responsible for the disparities in minority business performance," the MBDA's report finds.

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