National award recognizes economics professor’s research for revealing outsized pandemic impacts on minority-owned businesses

Rob Fairlie standing in a hallway on the UCSC campus
Economics Professor Robert Fairlie is being recognized for his research on how the pandemic affected minority-owned businesses.

Economics Professor Robert Fairlie recently received the Bradford-Osborne Research Award, which recognizes ground-breaking research in support of entrepreneurs of color. Fairlie was honored for his August 2020 paper in the Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, “The impact of COVID-19 on small business owners: Evidence from the first three months after widespread social-distancing restrictions.” 

Fairlie’s paper was among the first published in academic journals to explore the impacts of COVID-19 on small business in the United States. In it, he found that, from February to April of 2020, minority-owned businesses were affected by pandemic-related closures at substantially higher rates. The number of active African-American-owned businesses dropped 41 percent, Latinx business ownership fell by 32 percent, and Asian business ownership dropped by 26 percent, compared to a 17 percent decline for white business owners. 

These findings drew international attention to demographic inequities in the pandemic’s economic impact. More than 160 media outlets shared the news, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, PBS, CBS, CNBC, BBC, Bloomberg, Forbes, and National Geographic. The paper has received more than 400 academic citations and was used in U.S. Senate bills, California legislation, and other policy work that ultimately restructured the $800 billion Paycheck Protection Program to better aid minority-owned businesses. 

Fairlie has given testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives and the California State Assembly to share both his original findings and follow-up research that tracks progress toward equitable economic recovery. Vice President Kamala Harris’s economic team has also reached out to Fairlie on many occasions for updates on his research. 

“I originally wrote the paper and tried to get it out there quickly at a time when we knew very little about the effects of the pandemic on small businesses,” Fairlie said. Since then, it has received way more attention than I ever thought it would. Researchers and policy makers pulled out one of the key messages: that business owners of color were struggling disproportionately in the pandemic, and that aid was needed to help them stay afloat.”

Fairlie said it has been an honor to be recognized for this work, particularly with an award named for University of Washington Professor Emeritus of Finance William Bradford and Alfred E. Osborne, Jr., senior associate dean for external affairs at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Over the course of their careers, Bradford and Osborne have published more than 60 research articles on entrepreneurs of color and their businesses.

“Bradford and Osborne are both luminaries in the field,” Fairlie said. “Most of my research builds on their earlier work, so receiving this award has been an incredible honor.”