After a long spring and summer, Tami Treadwell’s food cart is back on the streets of New York City. The chef and owner of the Harlem Seafood Soul has been a staple on the corner of 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard in Harlem since 2016. Competition for the space was always fierce – until March when Covid-19 ravaged New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had deemed street vendors essential workers, but after a day or so with no customers in April, Treadwell decided to stay home, too.
“It’s been like a ghost town out here. Before Covid-19 there were street vendors fighting for space along the street and now it’s barely a handful of vendors,” Treadwell said.
More than 100,000 small businesses have not made it through the pandemic, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research – and that number is climbing. Treadwell has managed to hang on, and needs the business to feed her own family.
“It’s been very difficult,” she said. “I’m behind on rent like everybody else, we’re food insecure like everybody else. We’re no different.”
The economic crash this past spring was swift. States shut down entire sectors of their economies as Americans were asked to stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus. Consumer spending tumbled and millions of jobs were lost.
In response, Congress passed two stimulus bills creating lifelines for everyday Americans that included a Paycheck Protection Program loan for small businesses to encourage them to keep their workers, and an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits for those who lost their jobs.
Months into the pandemic, millions are still out of work. Less than 50% of the 22 million jobs lost during March and April have been recovered, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. And the extra $600 a week in unemployment expired at the end of July.
Treadwell says she applied for several city and federal loan programs but didn’t receive funding. She then applied for unemployment – but without the extra $600 she says she’s only getting $182 a week. She’s now three months behind on rent and says more help is needed to take care of her and her grandchildren.
“You want this economy back up and running?” said Treadwell. “If you [Congress] leave us out, we’re going to have barren streets because we are the lifeblood of Main Street America.”
Congress is deadlocked on a new stimulus bill that would bring relief to millions of Americans and help stimulate the economy. The Economic Policy Institute estimates the spending generated by $600 in extra unemployment each week supports over 5 million jobs. And without it, those jobs go away.
The rich are getting richer
Yet there are winners in this economy, although they aren’t on Main Street. Wall Street has recovered from the pandemic, and then some. The S&P 500 and the Dow had their best August on record since the mid 80’s – and the NASDAQ recorded its best August since 2000. On Tuesday, both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite closed at new all-time highs.
The five largest US tech stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) are worth a collective $7 trillion. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is now the first person to be worth $200 billion – a milestone reached during a pandemic. Yet at the same time 40 million Americans could face eviction by the end of the year without a new stimulus bill, according to an analysis by the Aspen Institute.
Luisa Santos came to the United States from Colombia for the American Dream. Six years ago, she opened Lulu’s Ice Cream in Miami, Florida. Now, she’s cut her salary to keep her employees on part-time. Her eight-week PPP loan for $24,000 ran out long ago.
“We on Main Street are trying to figure out what we do for our team members, our communities and for ourselves,” Santos said. “As business owners, if I don’t get additional help, it might only be three or six months that I can go without something changing.”
Santos was forced to close twice after Covid-19 cases spiked in Florida in June. Indoor dining in Miami-Dade County reopened this week – but she says she’s not taking that chance yet. Instead she is hoping Congress will pass another stimulus bill to help her small business.
“We are not in a good place in our economy,” said Santos. “What we need is support to get through the rough patch.”
Women of color hurt most by the Covid-19 economy
The pandemic has shined a light on the harsh realities facing people of color in America. Nearly every aspect of the pandemic has disproportionately hurt minorities and the economic impact is no exception.
Forty-one percent of Black business owners closed up shop during the pandemic compared to 17% of White business owners, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. And the highest rate of unemployment is among Latina workers, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute.
Economically, women of color have been affected the most of any other group.
“We need that [federal] support to make it through because if we want a thriving economy for generations to come, it’s important that we have thriving business owners who are of color,” said Santos.
When the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program was launched on April 3, Black businesses owners reported being left out of the funds. In the second round the Small Business Administration set aside $10 billion to be lent exclusively by Community Development Financial Institutions. These institutions work primarily in low-income communities.
“I know for a fact as a Black woman there has been a social economic disadvantage for us for as long as I can remember,” said Treadwell.
But she’s not giving up hope. If another round of PPP is announced, she will try again, though she’s still skeptical.
“I plan on applying, even though I know it was never truly intended for real small businesses like myself.”