We’ve all been affected by the pandemic this past year. In fact, around March of 2020 Boise State moved all its classes online. One of the most notable impacts has been the shutdown of in-person interaction. From businesses, to restaurants, to schools, it seems like every industry and type of job was hit. One of the largest issues I’ve seen is the impact of coronavirus on small businesses. Because of covid, everybody has had to reevaluate how they work, and small businesses have had to adapt to the pandemic.
I interviewed my dad, John Karel, for this article. He runs his own business in the Audio Visual Tech Industry, installing audio and visual systems for events and businesses. One of the things I wanted to find out was how much his daily workload had been affected by covid. For him it, “opened the doors…since I work in technology a lot of projects are with remote conferencing through Zoom, or Skype, or whatever. A lot of those projects happened when covid hit.” While this success may not be true for every business, it surprised me that my dad was busier during the pandemic than he was before, especially since most businesses have been forced to close.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the January 2020 unemployment rate in Idaho was 2.6%. This number peaked at 11.6% in April and has been decreasing steadily since then. The April numbers for 2021 say that the unemployment rate among Idahoans is now 3.3%, an improvement from that time last year, but still higher than pre-covid (Databases). As people have struggled through social distancing measures, through sickness, and through a lack of social connection with friends and relatives, owners of small businesses have had to face a choice. Shut down or continue working. By shutting down, these owners don’t risk their safety, or their customers’, but how do they provide for their families with no source of income? They can’t get another job because of the same reason that forced their closure in the first place, covid. Thankfully, state and federal governments have tried to help with this problem.
The federal government has passed a plethora of legislation to combat covid-19’s effect on small businesses. One of these acts was the CARES Act. Passed during March of 2020, this law was then the largest economic stimulus in U.S. history, with roughly $2 trillion spent to aid families and small businesses (Hulse). But, despite the large amount of money the Federal government put into the economy, it only amounted to $1,200 dollars per person (Sauter). It was nice but couldn’t last forever.
The CARES Act also sent money to states to help them combat the pandemic. My dad benefited from this economic stimulus, saying that “business has basically doubled. Stimulus spending helped my business because it opened up a lot more money in the areas of technologies. Money was available for my customers to implement remote-distance meetings. We had to set up the infrastructure so they could do Zoom meetings.” He even had to invest into his business by hiring more employees and buying more equipment. The money injected into the economy created more work, and my dad had to invest into his business to keep up with demand. But if demand slows, those investments will be for nothing. It’s a double-edged sword. Relief money helps businesses and workers during the pandemic, but if the money stops coming the demand created by it stops too. And that money isn’t being spent on other things such as vaccines or infrastructure.
Governor Little and Idaho’s government have tried to prevent this slow-down of the economy with relief plans of their own. The Idaho Rebounds Plan allowed Idaho, its economy, and its businesses to reopen in stages (Stages). These stages would hopefully keep covid numbers low while also getting Idaho’s men and women back to work. Much sooner than staying shutdown for the remainder of the pandemic, this plan has the added benefit of focusing on Idaho specifically, while the federal government must divide its attention between the entire nation, and the rest of the world.
Covid not only impacted people’s work, but also how they work. Because my dad’s job requires a lot of physical labor, wearing a mask can be a detriment to his success, “because the type of work that I do is climbing ladders and a lot of walking. Doing that you build up a high heart rate…wearing a mask makes it more difficult to get oxygen into your lungs.” In the audio visual tech industry, my dad has to install and set-up audio, visual, security, and wiring for a variety of systems. These could be projectors, PA’s, microphones, conference rooms, schools, or stadiums. If any event or business requires great sound or video quality, his field is the one who installs and tests the equipment. In order to obtain all this equipment my dad needs to order it from businesses like Graybar, Micron, and SnapAV. But, with the beginning of the pandemic that task became a lot more difficult.
I remember during the Spring of 2020 grocery stores across the country were having shortages of toilet paper, Clorox wipes, and food. Basic items that we can take for granted in modern society. When I think of shortages I think of a natural disaster. A hurricane, tornado, or flood. But when these grocery shortages happened, I didn’t have that same thought. Maybe this is because a natural disaster is loud, sudden, and destructive. But a pandemic caused by microscopic, invisible germs? It is destructive, but it’s not loud. It’s not obvious. These shortages weren’t just happening in grocery stores; the vendors my dad relies on to get his equipment were having similar struggles. “A lot of vendor shipments got delayed, as well as a lot of material that I needed was backordered. Sometimes it would take 4 weeks to get a product in.” As a small business owner, sometimes you can’t wait 4 weeks for a part you need for a job now. As a restaurant owner, a salon stylist, or construction worker you can’t wait for the pandemic to be over before you reopen. Not when you have a family to feed and bills to pay. But if you reopen and nobody comes, out of fear for their own safety, then you’ve lost even more of your money because of the costs of operating a building.
What do you do? Do you risk reopening to hopefully make a living? Do you risk the social stigma from reopening when amidst a social-distancing, less than 200-people-gathering climate? Does the government even know your situation well enough to know which businesses are “essential” and which aren’t? Because all jobs were created out of a need for something by society (clothes, toys, books, food, entertainment, health), doesn’t the nature of a free-market economy mean all jobs are essential?
When people talk about businesses being affected by the pandemic, I think they only think of the unemployment numbers. The shocking statistics flashed on every news headline and article. Or they picture the big-brand billion-dollar corporations having to lay off employees. They think, if the rich can get hurt, maybe this covid thing is actually a big deal. But how many people know, behind the numbers and the headlines, about the people who don’t have a million dollars? This pandemic has affected everybody. People get infected, people die, healthcare workers must deal with this mess, and yes, small business owners close their doors, fighting to succeed against a virus.
“Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3 Mar. 2021, data.bls.gov/pdq/SurveyOutputServlet.
Hulse, Carl, and Emily Cochrane. “As Coronavirus Spread, Largest Stimulus in History United a Polarized Senate.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Mar. 2020.
Karel, John. Interview. Conducted by James Karel, 8 March. 2021.
Sauter, Michael B. “Coronavirus Stimulus Checks: Here's How Many People Will Get $1,200 in Every State.” USA Today, USA Today, 28 Apr. 2020.
“Stages of Reopening.” Idaho Rebounds: Our Path to Prosperity, Idaho Rebounds: Our Path to Prosperity, 31 Mar. 2021.
James Karel is an English major at Boise State University. He has a passion for history, good food, and fun music. He is always ready to learn.