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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Familiar chains that look like giant corporations are often independently owned small businesses that are getting wrecked by the pandemic alongside local mom-and-pops.

The big picture: Franchising has exploded in recent decades, with 733,000 franchise establishments employing more than 7.6 million Americans. The coronavirus closed 74% of them, according to a survey by the International Franchise Association.

Be smart: Fewer than half of all franchises are restaurants. The rest are in sectors like home health care, business services, hotels, auto repair, child care, dry cleaning, gyms, salons and spas.

  • They pay a one-time fee — usually tens of thousands of dollars — to buy a franchise, then give a percentage of their sales to the parent company in exchange for national advertising support and the right to use their brand and processes.
  • The franchisee is responsible for day-to-day operations, including staffing.

What they're saying: “We like to think that franchisees have these huge war chests of money, but they’re boot-strapping it. They’re small businesses that don’t have a lot of money,” Jania Bailey, CEO of franchise consultant group FranNet, told Restaurant Dive.

  • “Many [franchisees] will put everything on the line — they do a 401(k) rollover, they invest their retirement fund, take second mortgages on their homes — anything and everything to get that business open. And they scrape together to get it up and operational and get cash flowing positive, and they’re starting to see a little bit of profit, and then something like this happens and it just wipes them out.”

Go deeper

Senate Democrats unveil new income tax for billionaires

Sen. Ron Wyden. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Democrats on Wednesday released a billionaires' tax proposal, designed to help support President Biden's social spending and climate change legislation.

Why it matters: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the Billionaires Income Tax would raise "hundreds of billions of dollars" and would affect approximately 700 taxpayers who have more than $1 billion in assets or incomes of over $100 million a year.

The startup that wants to disrupt big internet providers

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A new startup backed by funding from AOL founder Steve Case and Laurene Powell Jobs wants to break up broadband monopolies across the country.

Why it matters: Internet access has been crucial during the pandemic, but it's not ubiquitous, and it can be both slow and unaffordable in swaths of the country.

3 hours ago - World

Top general: China's hypersonic missile test "very close" to a "Sputnik moment"

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Rod Lamkey-Pool/Getty Images

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Wednesday that China's test of a hypersonic missile is "very concerning" and "very close" to the kind of "Sputnik moment" that triggered the Space Race during the Cold War.

Why it matters: The comments by America's top uniformed general underscore the depths of U.S. concerns about China's rapid military expansion and development of advanced weaponry.