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Early on in the Pandemic, as 30 million people lost their jobs and gigs, the number of new businesses exploded higher, perhaps fed by stimulus money and the extra $600-a-week in unemployment benefits that allowed people to strike out and go after their dreams, or fed by desperation, or fed by new opportunities that arose and that some people saw and grabbed.
Starting in late May, according to the Census Bureau, weekly business applications began to surge, and in the week ended July 18, at 123,000, were up 91% from the same week last year. They have now tapered off but continue to run at a hot pace. In the week through November 21, which the Census Bureau released on Wednesday, business applications, at 83,740 were still 33% higher than in the same week last year (chart shows the three-month moving average of weekly business applications):
Since the end of May, there have been 2.48 million new business applications, up 52% from the same period last year.
The Census Bureau’s weekly data on “business formations” is not survey-based. It’s based on applications by new business entities for a federal “Employer Identification Number” (EIN), the taxpayer identification number by which the IRS tracks businesses for tax purposes. When I started my Wolf Street media mogul empire, I first set up a corporation, then the corporation applied for an EIN (my bank did that), and a few minutes later, using the new EIN, the bank set up a bank account for the corporation.
The Census excludes from these weekly EIN applications those that are not related to typical business formations, such as EIN applications “for tax liens, estates, trusts, or certain financial filings, applications with no state-county geocodes, applications from certain agricultural, public entities, and applications in certain industries (e.g. private households, civic and social organizations).” What’s left becomes the data for business formations, as depicted in the chart above.
But there are also a large number of exits because it’s tough out there, and the risks are high, and it often doesn’t work out for small businesses. Even in a good year, the net total number of new small businesses minus the exits of existing small businesses is much lower – and falls into the negative during tough times, with exits outnumbering startups, such as during the Financial Crisis.
Based on information in EIN applications, the Census Bureau estimates which of those businesses have a high propensity of having a payroll (“High-Propensity Business Applications” or HBA). These businesses are the hoped-for jobs-creating machines.
In the latest week, there were 28,980 HBAs, still up 23% from the same week last year. At the peak in mid-July, there had been 41,380 applications, up 71% from the same week last year. The spike in application started in the week ended June 13, and over the period since that week, applications have surged 42% year-over-year to 803,720.
But that huge spike over the summer only brought these high-propensity business applications back to where they’d been before the Financial Crisis in 2007, with 12 years of drought in the middle, and they’ve now dropped well below that level again:
This is a step further. Within the HBAs, the Census Bureau splits out which businesses already have a planned date for paying wages (“Business Applications with Planned Wages” or WBA), meaning they have people and funding in place, and they’re ready to hire and grow.
There were 10,120 applications by these businesses with planned wages in the latest week, up 21% from the same week last year. The surge in these types of businesses started in the week ended June 13. Since then, businesses of this type have filed 275,130 applications, up 33% from the same period last year.
Alas, that magnificent surge in applications was just a minor uptick, compared the number of business applications with planned wage dates before the Financial Crisis. These are the businesses that are deemed to have a good chance of turning into significant employers, and the drought that started in 2008 has effectively never ended:
Total business applications minus high-propensity business applications would be the businesses with a low propensity to create employment – businesses that have a good chance of remaining small, with just one employee, or maybe just a few employees. This is the most common type of business in America. And many of them don’t make it. Others allow their owners to do something fulfilling, be in control, draw a decent income, and enjoy the tax benefits that come with it, and they do important things, but beyond feeding their owners, they just don’t create a lot of jobs.
In the latest week, there have been 54,760 EIN applications by these types of businesses, up 39% from a year ago. The boom in applications took off in the week ended May 23. Over the months since then, there have been 1.68 million EIN applications of this type, up 58% from the same period last year.
Turns out, this type of business application – businesses with a low propensity to create jobs – has been soaring for years, having doubled from 2007 to 2019, and having spiked further since then:
What has happened during the Pandemic in terms of business applications and their projected propensity to create jobs, and what happened in prior years, and how the environment for new businesses has changed since the Financial Crisis, becomes clearer when viewed together – businesses with a low propensity to create jobs (red line), businesses with a high propensity to create jobs (green line), and businesses with planned wages (blue line):
Businesses that applied for the forgivable Payroll Protection Program loans had to submit documentation of wages paid over specified periods. The PPP program ended on August 8. The dates were structured so that it would be impossible to create a business entity after the announcement, pay wages for long enough to qualify for a PPP loan, and then apply for a PPP loan. Applicants had to submit historical wage documentation to the lenders whose job it was to sort through it.
Fintech companies and online lenders also piled into PPP loans, and apparently anything went with some of them. A Bloomberg analysis in October found that these companies were connected to 75% of the PPP fraud cases alleged by the US Justice Department, though they only arranged 15% of the number of total loans.
But the fraud didn’t require an EIN because these lenders didn’t check anything: “In many cases, a simple Google or state records search would have suggested an applicant’s business didn’t exist or was dormant.” Other companies “weren’t in good standing with the secretary of state.” In other words, these types of cases didn’t impact the EIN data here.
Most of the large banks prioritized their existing customers in order to avoid getting tangled up in fraud allegations. And these existing businesses already had EINs.
In short, there was plenty of shady stuff going on – but it didn’t require applying for an EIN. And with the PPP dates and payroll periods being structured the way they were, applying for an EIN after the announcement of the PPP would not have been helpful in committing PPP fraud. There were easier and more effective ways of doing this. So PPP fraud likely had little impact on the EIN applications.
That people strike out on their own and start a business is a great thing and a testimony to the American spirit. That they’re doing it in historic numbers during the Pandemic is even better. That many may be doing it out of desperation is the dark side.
It may be a testimony of how tough the job market has become. Some people may not see any other options. For example, experienced and knowledgeable workers, permanently excluded from jobs by ageism, start their own one-man or one-woman show. And that’s great. If they can make it, they may be the happiest with their worklife they’ve ever been. But for many people, it’s very tough to pull off.
The disconcerting part is the thinning out over the years of business startups with a high propensity to create jobs, or with already planned wages at the time of the EIN application. This flies in the face of all the hoopla about the relatively minuscule number of startups with multi-billion dollar “valuations” that garner all the attention in the media.
Stimulus & extra UI dried up. But 16% of “proprietors’ income” in October was PPP money & Pandemic farm aid. Read… The State of the American Consumer: Free Pandemic-Money Runs Low
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: The north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge is seen surrounded by fog on September 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. ( Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BAY AREA, CA — Spooky season is still very much alive, despite the COVID-19 pandemic putting a damper on some festivities. Costume parties and trick-or-treating in mass groups might not be such a great idea this year, but taking a socially distanced walk around these Bay Area haunts is relatively safe, from coronavirus anyway — the ghosts however, we can't speak for.
Check out these 10 haunted places around the Bay Area:
1. Claremont Hotel
The Claremont Hotel and Spa is a historic property located in the Claremont District and straddles the city limits of Berkeley and Oakland.
While the hotel that sits there now was constructed in 1915, the original building, a home which early settler William B. Thornburgh called his "castle," burned down in 1901.
Since the hotel opened, guests have reported that room 422 is haunted by the ghost of a little girl. Other complaints have included the faint smell of smoke and the distant sounds of a baby crying.
2. The Golden Gate Bridge
Of course, the Golden Gate Bridge would have ghost stories. Since the bridge opened on May 27, 1937, there have been around 1,600 bodiesrecovered from the murky waters below the bridge, and many more unconfirmed.
But the oldest Ghost story of the region is older than the bridge itself. The myth holds that in 1942, the USS Kennison's crew watched a ghost ship sail past them in the night while traveling through the Bay where the bridge resides.
The ship they saw was the SS Tennessee, which sank in 1853 after it became caught in a deadly current, which pulled the ship into jagged rocks in the Golden Gate Straights.
Since the bridge was built, many have reported screams in the mist. So take a walk along the bridge tonight, maybe you'll spot the phantom ship.
The historic Haskell house, located at the corner of Franklin Street and McDowell Avenue in Fort Mason, has a long history of ghoulish sights. It's where U.S. Senator David Broderick was shot in a planned duel over a political disagreement with State Supreme Court Justice David Terry on Sept. 12 1859.
The duel sent Broderick limping back into the Haskell house, where he died of his gunshot wounds days later. But legend has it, Broderick continues to wander the home.
Many of whom dared to sleep in this house have said they felt a presence of some sort, especially in the kitchen.
Dare to take a stroll by this house, and you might see Broderick's figure, pacing by the window in his top hat.
4. Presidio Officers' Club
There are a handful of ghostly tales from the Presidio, first founded as the Spanish Imperial Outpost in 1776 and then converted to a U.S. Army Base in 1846. Now, it's just a big old haunted park.
The Officer's Club, located at 50 Moraga Ave in San Francisco, is perhaps the most famous specter sighting spot, as the show "Ghost Hunters" captured video of a mysterious woman in a long flowing dress, walking through the ballroom.
5. The USS Hornet - Alameda
Many a sailor died on this decommissioned Navy aircraft carrier, which holds a record for onboard suicides, according to multiple sources. The USS Hornet, currently docked in Alameda, was commissioned in 1943 at the height of World War II.
It has been said that it's the vessel's tragic historic that keeps spectral sailors toiling below deck, as if carrying out orders from decades past. Visitors have reported doors opening and closing on their own accord and sensations of being grabbed or pushed in empty rooms.
And fortunately, this historic Navy aircraft carrier is still open for tours on weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., just bring a mask and remember to follow social distancing guidelines. Ordinarily the ship hosts a Monster's Bash on Halloween, but the celebration was cancelled this year. Organizers will host a virtual ghost hunt instead.
6. Alcatraz Island
Arguably one of the most famous haunts in the Bay Area, Alcatraz Island and its eerily abandoned prison cells hold history that apparently lingers still today. Although there's been some discrepancy over whether prisoners were actually executed there, many visitors have reported rattling chains, cell doors swinging open and a ghostly draft.
The spooky jailhouse island reopened in August after months of closure and is now welcoming visitors for outdoor visits only. Find tickets and visitor information here.
7. Joaquin Miller Park - Oakland
Pass by Joaquin Miller Park sometime and listen for the sound of a phantom whisper, or perhaps even the shadowy figure of a woman wandering through the trees.
Supposedly, the woman visitors have sighted over the years was killed one foggy night in a roadside accident near the park. It has been said that before her death, she set up a hut somewhere on the grounds of the park to live. Whether she was homeless or camping is still unknown. Visitors have tried to find this rumored hut but so far, no one has located it.
The other ghoulish culprit could be Joaquin Miller himself, considering that he died in his house on the same grounds.
8. Whittier Mansion - San Francisco
The Whittier Mansion, built in 1896 is rich with California history and was among the first luxury homes built in San Francisco's early days. The home once belonged to William Franklin Whittier, a prominent pioneer in the railroad and shipping industries.
While the structure certainly looks as though it could be haunted, passersby have witnessed shadowy figures looming in the windows at night.
Visitors of the home have reported sightings of several specters inside and out of the house. A ghostly man has repeatedly been spotted down in the wine cellar. And rumor has it that Whittier, an avid wino, haunts the cellar himself.
9. Redwood Road - Castro Valley
What's creepier than a haunted playground? Urban legend has it that children murdered in Castro Valley often congregate around the swings at the site of an old preschool at the end of Redwood Road.
Supposedly, in the early 1980s, a man with a knife killed all the kids at the preschool. But the building no longer remains, just the swings. Look out for swings jostling on their own when you pay this creepy location a visit.
10. Mountain View Cemetery - Oakland
Perhaps one of the most chilling unsolved murders of California history is actress Elizabeth Short's case, known as "The Black Dahlia." She was laid to rest in Oakland at Mountain View Cemetery, but Short's body was found in Los Angeles. She was found severed in half, scrubbed clean and drained of her blood in 1947.
And short isn't the only rumored specter inhabiting Mountain View Cemetery; over 500 people are buried in a mass unmarked grave near the entrance. "Stranger's Hill" is the place where Alameda County officials allegedly buried criminals, suicide victims and others who died gruesome deaths during World War I, according to the San Francisco Gate.
That’s Michael Levitt, a Nobel laureate and Stanford biophysicist, delivering his optimistic take on the coronavirus pandemic to the Los Angeles Times over the weekend.
Levitt was credited for correctly calling early on that China would get through the worst of its devastating outbreak before many other health experts predicted.
On Jan. 31, China had 46 new deaths compared with 42 the day before, which Levitt recognized as a slowing rate of growth. So he sent out an optimistic report.
“This suggests that the rate of increase in number of the deaths will slow down even more over the next week,” he said in a note widely shared on Chinese social media. Levitt, who won the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry, also said the number of deaths would soon start decreasing every day.
He ultimately nailed his call for a mid-February peak with a total tally of about 80,000 cases and 3,250 deaths. As of March 16, China had counted a total of 80,298 cases and 3,245 deaths — in a country of almost 1.4 billion people where about 10 million die every year.
He’s got a similar view for the United States.
“What we need is to control the panic... we’re going to be fine,” he said, adding that the data doesn’t support the gloom and doom epidemiologist have been warning about.
Levitt looked at the stats from 78 countries with more than 50 reported cases of COVID-19 every day and sees “signs of recovery,” focusing on the number of new cases, not the cumulative figure.
“Numbers are still noisy but there are clear signs of slowed growth,” he told the L.A. Times, claiming that, however, the trajectory of deaths in the U.S. back up his findings.
There are now 35,224 cases and 471 deaths in the U.S., as of Monday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University. On Friday afternoon, there were 16,018 cases and 210 deaths.
Levitt said social-distancing mandates and getting vaccinated against the flu are both critical to the fight against the spread. Italy’s strong anti-vaccine movement, he explained, likely played a factor in the explosion of cases, because the spread of the flu likely was a factor in overwhelming hospitals and increasing the chances of coronavirus going undetected.
He lays some of the blame on the media for sparking panic by focusing on the increase in cumulative cases and spotlighting celebrities, like Tom Hanks and Idris Elba, who have been infected.
Levitt is also worried that an overreaction could trigger another crisis, with lost jobs and hopelessness creating their own set of problems, such as a surge in suicide rate.
On Sunday, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard said he sees the U.S. unemployment rate hitting 30% in the coming months as the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. If his projection proves true, unemployment would be worse than it was during the Great Depression and three times worse than the 2007-’09 recession.
While those kinds headlines continue to spread fear, Levitt sticks by his simple message: The coronavirus pandemic is “not the end of the world.”