The ultimate damage could be much greater. In a recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a small-business lobbying group, 21 percent of small businesses said they would have to close if conditions did not improve in the next six months. Other private-sector surveys have found similar results.

Widespread business failures could cause lasting economic damage. Nearly half of American employees work for businesses with staffs under 500, meaning millions of jobs are at stake. And while new businesses would inevitably spring up to replace those that close, that process will take far longer than simply reopening existing businesses.

"The consequences to allowing a tidal wave of closures is we will make every aspect of the recovery harder," said John Lettieri, president and chief executive of the Economic Innovation Group, a Washington research organization.

There could also be longer-run implications. Despite high-profile bankruptcies in the retail industry and other sectors, many large corporations have been able to solidify their position during the pandemic: demanding concessions from landlords, borrowing billions of dollars at low interest rates and leveraging sophisticated supply chains and distribution systems to reach suddenly homebound customers. Small businesses, which usually have less access to credit and rely more heavily on foot traffic, have been struggling to survive.


"Why didn't we use the time that P.P.P. bought us to design the kind of program that would be commensurate with the national challenge that we're facing?" Mr. Lettieri, of the Economic Innovation Group, asked. "That's all P.P.P. was. It was a mechanism to buy time. It was never the long-term solution."

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