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Small Business Pulse Survey Updated July 2nd, 2020

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Differences between estimates may be attributed to sampling or nonsampling error, rather than to differences in underlying economic conditions. Caution should be used in drawing conclusions from the estimates and comparisons shown. Additional information on the survey methodology, including sampling error (e.g., standard errors and relative standard errors) and nonsampling error, may be found at: Small Business Pulse Survey Methodology.
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About

Purpose

The Small Business Pulse Survey (SBPS) complements existing U.S. Census Bureau data collections by providing high-frequency, detailed information on participation in small business-specific initiatives such as the Paycheck Protection Program.

Small Businesses are at the core of our nation’s economy and the challenges they face are important to everyone. To better understand the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on these businesses, the U.S. Census Bureau is reaching out to small businesses in order to aid decision-makers in serving their urgent needs.

The results from this survey will be particularly useful to policymakers as they seek to address some of the challenges faced by small businesses. In addition, the information will be useful to businesses making decisions and researchers studying the impact and responses to COVID-19.

Coverage

The target population is all nonfarm, single-location employer businesses with 1-499 employees and receipts of $1,000 or more in the 50 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The sampling frame was extracted from the Business Register in April 2020. The following industries were designated as out of scope for the Business Pulse Survey:

  • Agriculture production (NAICS in ('110000', '111', '112'))
  • Railroads (NAICS = '482')
  • U.S. Postal Service (NAICS = '491')
  • Monetary Authorities – Central Bank (NAICS = '521')
  • Funds, Trusts, and Other Financial Vehicles (NAICS = '525')
  • Religious grant operations and Religious organizations (NAICS = '813')
  • Private households (NAICS = '814')
  • Public administration (NAICS = '92')
  • Unclassified with legal form of organization as tax-exempt or unknown

Content

The Small Business Pulse Survey will provide detailed, timely information about how small businesses’ operations and finances are being affected as well measures of overall well-being and expectations for recovery.

Consisting of 16 questions, this 5-minute survey reaches close to 1 million businesses split across a 9-week rotation to reduce burden and lessen survey fatigue.

Frequency

The Small Business Pulse Survey is a weekly survey that provides high frequency data about the challenges small businesses are facing due to COVID-19. Publication schedule is weekly on Thursdays, starting May 14th.

Week Collection Date Due Date Data Published
1 April 26 - May 2 April 30 May 14
2 May 3 - May 9 May 7 May 21
3 May 10 - May 16 May 14 May 21
4 May 17 - May 23 May 21 May 28
5 May 24 - May 30 May 28 June 4
6 May 31 - June 6 June 4 June 11
7 June 7 - June 13 June 11 June 18
8 June 14 - June 20 June 18 June 25
9 June 21 - June 27 June 25 July 2

Limitations

The Small Business Pulse Survey definition of a small business may not be the same as the definition used by other organizations or federal agencies in order to determine program eligibility. For the Small Business Pulse Survey, the Census Bureau defines a small business as a single location business with employment between 1 and 499 and receipts of at least $1,000. Additionally, for the Small Business Pulse Survey the Census Bureau did not include businesses classified in certain industries that may be eligible for relief programs. Estimates of the share of small businesses applying for or receiving assistance may not equal calculations based on the administrative records of those programs due to these differences or other possible non-sampling error.

The sample for the Small Business Pulse Survey is not a probability sample, although weights were applied to ensure that each weekly panel represented the full population. The target population is all nonfarm, single-location employer businesses 499 or less employees and receipts of $1,000 or more in the 50 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The set of businesses in the target population that responded to the 2017 Economic Census was identified as the subset of businesses eligible to participate in the Small Business Pulse Survey. The number of active, in-scope businesses with valid email addresses totaled about 940,500 businesses. Approximately 91,000 email addresses were updated through a match to the databases used for processing monthly and annual economic surveys.

A decision was made during data collection in the first week of the survey to eliminate email addresses linked to three or more businesses from future collections, to eliminate ambiguity in associating survey responses to the correct business. Approximately 885,000 businesses remained in the email sample after this removal. Respondents with email addresses linked to two businesses were instructed to provide a separate report for each of the two businesses. Because there was not a unique matching of e-mail addresses to businesses, some responses may not correspond to the state/industry in which they were tabulated.

The Small Business Pulse Survey may be subject to non-response bias, as businesses that have closed due to COVID-19 may not be receiving the invitation to participate and unable to respond. The Small Business Pulse Survey estimates may also be subject to bias if businesses that provide email addresses or that are willing to participate in an email-based survey are systematically different from businesses who do neither.

Disclosure Statement

Disclosure is the release of data that reveals information or permits deduction of information about a particular survey unit through the release of either tables or microdata. Disclosure avoidance is the process used to protect each survey unit’s identity and data from disclosure. Using disclosure avoidance procedures, the Census Bureau modifies or removes the characteristics that put information at risk of disclosure. Although it may appear that a table shows information about a specific survey unit, the Census Bureau has taken steps to disguise or suppress a unit’s data that may be “at risk” of disclosure while making sure the results are still useful.

The Census Bureau has reviewed the data product for unauthorized disclosure of confidential information and has approved the disclosure avoidance practices applied.
(Approval ID: CBDRB-FY20-259).

Contact Us

Econ.pulse.data@census.gov

Methodology

Survey Design

Target Population

The target population is all nonfarm, single-location employer businesses with between 1-499 employees and receipts of $1,000 or more in the 50 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The sampling frame was extracted from the Business Register in April 2020. The following industries were designated as out of scope for the Business Pulse Survey:

  • Agriculture production (NAICS in ('110000', '111', '112'))
  • Railroads (NAICS = '482')
  • U.S. Postal Service (NAICS = '491')
  • Monetary Authorities – Central Bank (NAICS = '521')
  • Funds, Trusts, and Other Financial Vehicles (NAICS = '525')
  • Religious grant operations and Religious organizations (NAICS = '813')
  • Private households (NAICS = '814')
  • Public administration (NAICS = '92')
  • Unclassified with legal form of organization as tax-exempt or unknown

Sampling Frame

The set of businesses in the target population that responded to the 2017 Economic Census was identified as the subset of businesses eligible to participate in the Small Business Pulse Survey (SBPS). The 2017 Economic Census (EC) utilized an all-electronic data collection strategy. Eligible respondents to the Economic Census were mailed a letter containing an authentication code and were invited to create an account using the Respondent Portal. The Respondent Portal provides access to electronic survey instruments. To establish their Respondent Portal account, respondents provided a valid email address, their name, phone number, and were required to establish a password.

Approximately 1.7 million of the over 6 million single-establishment employer businesses received an invitation to respond to the 2017 Economic Census; administrative data were used for the remaining cases to minimize respondent burden. About 1.1 million of the 1.7 million Economic Census cases had between 1 and 499 employees.

In April 2020, the Census Bureau extracted from the Business Register single-location businesses with employment between 1 and 499 and payroll in 2018, 2019, or 2020. The number of active, in-scope businesses with valid email addresses totaled about 940,500 businesses. Approximately 91,000 email addresses were updated through a match to the databases used for processing monthly and annual economic surveys.

A decision was made during data collection in the first week of the survey to eliminate email addresses linked to three or more businesses from future collections, to eliminate ambiguity in associating survey responses to the correct business. Approximately 885,000 businesses remained in the email sample after this removal. Respondents with email addresses linked to two businesses were instructed to provide a separate report for each of the two businesses.

Sample Design

To maximize the use of available e-mail addresses, the Census Bureau used the full set of businesses with e-mail addresses from the Economic Census in the Small Business Pulse Survey. The initial weight for each unit with an e-mail address was set to the count of the total number units (both with and without email addresses) in the same state by 3-digit NAICS industry divided by the number of units in the same grouping with an e-mail address.

The full set of eligible businesses was divided into nine panels for the weekly e-mail invitations to respond to the survey. To establish panels of similar size and industry and geography distributions, the businesses with e-mail addresses were sorted by MSA and 2018 annual payroll within each state by 3-digit NAICS cell and then systematically assigned to one of the nine panels.

Type of Request

The Small Business Pulse Survey is a voluntary survey.

Questionnaire Content

The Small Business Pulse Survey questionnaire contained 16 questions about the impact of COVID-19 outbreak on the business, including impacts on operating revenues and availability of cash; temporary closures; changes in the number of paid employees; disruption of supply chains; adoption of different business practices; missed loan payments; and requests/receipt of financial assistance.

The survey questionnaire and the corresponding instructions and letters are provided in the below.
Small Business Pulse Survey Questionnaire

Mode of Contact

Business respondents were contacted by email to respond to the survey. For each weekly survey panel, emails were delivered on Sunday using staggered times to gauge optimal timing of email delivery on response. The email directed respondents to the www.census.gov/businesspulse landing page that provided information about the survey, FAQs, links to releases of the data products, and a direct link to respond to the survey. Respondents were provided access to the survey using an authentication code provided in the email. In addition, an email address econ.pulse@census.gov was provided for respondents to send questions about the survey. Responses to questions were provided by Census Bureau Headquarters staff.

A follow-up reminder e-mail was sent on Wednesdays (Friday for the first week) to all nonrespondents in the weekly panel.

Response Criteria

The response period for each weekly tabulation was closed at 11:59pm on Saturdays.

To be considered a respondent to the Small Business Pulse Survey, a business had to respond to at least one of the 16 content survey questions. The online instrument was designed to encourage response to each question. If a survey participant attempted to move past a particular question without providing a response, a warning box appeared to prompt the respondent to provide a response. The participant was permitted to move to the next question without responding on the next attempt.

Responses to each question were tabulated independently. All responses, including those from businesses in prior panels, were included in tabulations for the week in which the responses were provided.

The Unit Response Rate (URR) is calculated weekly as:

Unit response rate = (R+R’)/(R+NR)*100

where

  • - R is the number of respondents in the currently weekly panel
  • - NR is the number of non-respondents in the currently weekly panel
  • - R’ is the number of late respondents from the previous weekly panel included in the estimates

Compilation of Data

Editing

Due to the nature of the survey questions and rapid cycle of data collection and release, the Small Business Pulse Survey response data were not subjected to editing.

Nonresponse

Nonresponse is defined as the inability to obtain requested data from an eligible survey unit. Two types of nonresponse are often distinguished. Unit nonresponse is the inability to obtain any of the substantive measurements about a unit. In most cases of unit nonresponse, the Census Bureau was unable to obtain any information from the survey unit after several attempts to elicit a response. Item nonresponse occurs either when a particular question is unanswered.

Nonresponse Adjustment

Adjustment factors were applied to Small Business Pulse Survey respondent data to account for unit nonresponse. Within each 2-digit NAICS, nonresponse adjustment factors were calculated for businesses by three employment size classes, to account for potential differential response by business size: four or fewer employees; between 5 and 19 employees; and 20 or more employees. To compute the values of the nonresponse adjustment factor, the sum of the sampling weights of all businesses in the weekly panel was divided by the sum of the sampling weights of all responding businesses in the weekly collection period The resulting factor was used to adjust the sampling weight for all respondents in the given adjustment cell.

Estimation

For each question on the survey, the published percentage estimate for a particular response category is calculated as the sum of the nonresponse-adjusted weights for all responses in that particular response category, divided by the sum of nonresponse-adjusted weights for each business responding to the question.

Five indices are also calculated from the Small Business Pulse Survey data. These indices summarize the collected data on the following key concepts: overall well-being (Question 1); operations (Questions 2, 4-7); adaptability (Questions 8-9); finances (Questions 10-13); and expected recovery (Question 15). To create the indices, responses for each question are normalized on a [-1, 1] scale. The normalized responses for each business are then averaged over the appropriate set of indexed items. A weighted score for the business was then computed by multiplying the final non-response adjusted weight for the business by the average score. For a given domain (e.g., state, sector, national total), the published index value is the average of the non-response adjusted index values for the responses in the domain.

Sampling Error

The sampling error of an estimate based on a sample survey is the difference between the estimate and the result that would be obtained from a complete census conducted under the same survey conditions. This error occurs because characteristics differ among sampling units in the population and only a subset of the population is measured in a sample survey. While the particular sample used in this survey was not drawn using traditional probabilistic methods, sampling weights were employed to ensure that the particular sample represented the entire in-scope population. The use of sampling weights also allowed for the estimation of sampling variability of the survey estimates.

A common measure of sampling variability for percentage estimates is the standard error of the estimate. The standard error is the square root of the sampling variance, which is the squared difference, averaged over all possible samples of the same size and design, between the estimator and its average value. The standard errors for the Small Business Pulse Survey estimates were calculated using a delete-a-group jackknife procedure, using 10 groups.

It is important to note that the sampling variance and standard error only measure sampling variability. They do not measure any systematic biases in the estimates.

The Census Bureau recommends that individuals using these estimates incorporate sampling error information into their analyses, as this could affect the conclusions drawn from the estimates.

Confidence Interval

The sample estimate and an estimate of its standard error allow us to construct interval estimates with prescribed confidence that the interval includes the average result of all possible samples with the same size and design. To illustrate, if all possible samples were surveyed under essentially the same conditions, and an estimate and its standard error were calculated from each sample, then:

Approximately 68 percent of the intervals from one standard error below the estimate to one standard error above the estimate would include the average estimate derived from all possible samples.

Approximately 90 percent of the intervals from 1.645 standard errors below the estimate to 1.645 standard errors above the estimate would include the average estimate derived from all possible samples.

In the example above, the margin of error (MOE) associated with the 90 percent confidence interval is the product of 1.645 and the estimated standard error.

For example, suppose that a domain had an estimated percentage of 50% (.50) in one response category and that the standard error of this estimate was 0.005. A 68 percent confidence interval for this estimate is 0.495 to 0.505, and a 90-percent confidence interval is 0.492 to 0.508 (0.500 plus or minus 1.645 times 0.005).

Nonsampling Error

Nonsampling error encompasses all factors other than sampling error that contribute to the total error associated with an estimate. This error may also be present in censuses and other nonsurvey programs. Nonsampling error arises from many sources: inability to obtain information on all units in the sample; response errors; differences in the interpretation of the questions; mismatches between sampling units and reporting units, requested data and data available or accessible in respondents’ records, or with regard to reference periods; mistakes in coding or keying the data obtained; and other errors of collection, response, coverage, and processing.

Although no direct measurement of nonsampling error was obtained, precautionary steps were taken in the collection, processing, and tabulation of the data in an effort to minimize its influence. Precise estimation of the magnitude of nonsampling errors would require special experiments or access to independent data and, consequently, the magnitudes are often unavailable.

The Census Bureau recommends that individuals using these estimates factor in this information when assessing their analyses of these data, as nonsampling error could affect the conclusions drawn from the estimates.

The unit response rate (URR) was calculated for each weekly panel of the Small Business Pulse Survey as an indicator of potential nonsampling error. The URR was calculated by taking the number of respondents and dividing by the number of businesses eligible for data collection plus the number of establishments for which eligibility could not be determined. The rate was then multiplied by 100. Businesses were assumed to be active and in-scope in the absence of evidence otherwise. This included cases that for which e-mails that were not successfully delivered.

Limitations

The Small Business Pulse Survey definition of a small business may not be the same as the definition used by other organizations or federal agencies in order to determine program eligibility. For the Small Business Pulse Survey, the Census Bureau defines a small business as a single location business with employment between 1-499 and receipts of at least $1,000. Additionally, for the Small Business Pulse Survey the Census Bureau did not include businesses classified in certain industries that may be eligible for relief programs. Estimates of the share of small businesses applying for or receiving assistance may not equal calculations based on the administrative records of those programs due to these differences or other possible non-sampling error.

The sample for the Small Business Pulse Survey is not a probability sample, although weights were applied to ensure that each weekly panel represented the full population. The target population is all nonfarm, single-location employer businesses with less than 499 employees and receipts of $1,000 or more in the 50 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The set of businesses in the target population that responded to the 2017 Economic Census was identified as the subset of businesses eligible to participate in the Small Business Pulse Survey. The number of active, in-scope businesses with valid email addresses totaled about 940,500 businesses. Approximately 91,000 email addresses were updated through a match to the databases used for processing monthly and annual economic surveys.

A decision was made during data collection in the first week of the survey to eliminate email addresses linked to three or more businesses from future collections, to reduce ambiguity in associating survey responses to the correct business. Approximately 885,000 businesses remained in the email sample after this removal. Respondents with email addresses linked to two businesses were instructed to provide a separate report for each of the two businesses. Because there was not a unique matching of e-mail addresses to businesses, some responses may not correspond to the state/industry in which they were tabulated.

The Small Business Pulse Survey may be subject to non-response bias, as businesses that have closed due to COVID-19 may not be receiving the invitation to participate and unable to respond. The Small Business Pulse Survey estimates may also be subject to bias if businesses that provide email addresses or that are willing to participate in an email-based survey are systematically different from businesses who do neither.

Disclosure avoidance

Disclosure is the release of data that reveals information or permits deduction of information about a particular survey unit through the release of either tables or microdata. Disclosure avoidance is the process used to protect each survey unit’s identity and data from disclosure. Using disclosure avoidance procedures, the Census Bureau modifies or removes the characteristics that put information at risk of disclosure. Although it may appear that a table shows information about a specific survey unit, the Census Bureau has taken steps to disguise or suppress a unit’s data that may be “at risk” of disclosure while making sure the results are still useful.

The Census Bureau has reviewed the data product for unauthorized disclosure of confidential information and has approved the disclosure avoidance practices applied. (Approval ID: CBDRB-FY20-259).

FAQ

What is the Small Business Pulse Survey?

The U.S. Census Bureau launched the Small Business Pulse Survey (Business Pulse) in April 2020, to measure the changes in business conditions on our nation's small businesses during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Why is the Small Business Pulse Survey conducted?

The U.S. Census Bureau recognizes the need for accurate, real-time data on the U.S. population and economy. This survey helps us to understand how small businesses are weathering the current crisis given business disruptions, stay-at-home orders, school closures, changes in the availability of consumer goods and consumer patterns, and other abrupt and significant changes to American life.

What data are collected in the Small Business Pulse Survey?

The Small Business Pulse Survey collects data on location closings, changes in employment, disruptions in the supply chain, the use of federal assistance programs, and expectations concerning future operations.

How is the data collected for the Small Business Pulse Survey?

The Small Business Pulse Survey goes out to a different sample of respondents via e-mail each week. Data collection occurs using our online reporting instrument.

Whom can I contact with a specific question about the data?

Please refer to our Visualization Guide for help using the data tool.

For any additional questions, please email your inquiries to Econ.pulse.data@census.gov

What is the size of the Small Business Pulse Survey sample?

The Census Bureau invites over 90,000 businesses to respond each week, reaching nearly one million small businesses across a 9-week rotation to reduce burden and lessen survey fatigue.

How does the Census Bureau define a small business?

For the purpose of this survey, the U.S. Census Bureau defines a small business as a single location business with between 1-499 employees and at least $1,000 in annual revenue.

How are the Small Business Pulse Survey data used?

The data produced will consist of national estimates as well as state, top 50 metro, and industry detail. These series will be particularly useful to small businesses making decisions about their future, policymakers as they seek to address challenges faced by these businesses, and researchers studying the impact and response to COVID-19.

What steps does the Census Bureau undertake to ensure that confidential data are secure?

Federal law requires the U.S Census Bureau to keep information collected confidential and to use responses only to produce official statistics. Census has strict measures in place to protect respondents' privacy as well as the identities of all businesses, organizations, and institutions.

Contact Us
Econ Business Pulse Staff
Econ.pulse.data@census.gov