By many measures, 2020 — a year dominated by an emerging pandemic and overrun with natural disasters — was bad for business. A multitude of variables affected the ability of businesses to adapt, but according to new research, socio-economic vulnerabilities intensified impacts on small businesses.
A study by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed that businesses run by minorities, women and veterans, were dealt a much worse hand by the pandemic than other businesses. What’s more, the team saw that these businesses reported harsher downturns from COVID-19 alone than even other small businesses that were struck by natural disasters on top of COVID-19.
The findings, published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, stress the severity of the resilience gap between historically underrepresented group operators (HUGO) and non-HUGO businesses and highlight the need for additional interventions to HUGO businesses in areas where there is a high likelihood of overlapping natural disasters and other incidents.
“It is critical that we understand how climate events amplify existing social and economic vulnerabilities,” said Ariela Zycherman, a co-author of the paper in NOAA’s Climate Program Office. “For HUGO populations in particular, research like this demonstrates the ways pre-existing social inequities threaten resilience. This information is essential for supporting just climate futures across communities.”
The researchers initially developed the survey to learn about the combined impact of the pandemic and extreme weather events, including sudden disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires, and longer-lasting events, such as droughts and winter storms. By collecting that information, the researchers sought to potentially uncover opportunities for federal agencies and other institutions to offer support effectively.