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Can You Handle The Truth?: Fact-Checking Vice President Kamala Harris’ Claim On Small Business Closures

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks to State Department staff, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington.
Evan Vucci AP
Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks to State Department staff, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington.

Vice President and former California Senator Kamala Harris recently claimed one-third of all small businesses have closed during the pandemic.

CapRadio’s PolitiFact California reporter Chris Nichols fact-checked that and other statements in this week’s Can You Handle The Truth segment.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Interview Highlights

On when Harris made this claim and if it’s correct

She made it during a TV interview that aired this week on MSNBC, and she was talking about the toll the pandemic has taken on small businesses.

“This is one of my areas of focus I care so deeply about, which is … let’s just be clear about where we are. Half of America’s workforce works for a small business or owns a small business,” Harris said. “Sadly, during the course of the pandemic, one-third of our small businesses have closed.”

It really is a stark figure, and we found a couple of sources that do support her statement. A spokesperson for Harris pointed to a Harvard University project called The Economic Tracker.

That’s an online platform that provides data about real-time economic trends, and it uses things like financial transaction activity to determine whether a business has closed.

As of this week, the Tracker shows there are 37% fewer small businesses open nationwide compared with a couple of months before the pandemic. That share was slightly higher in California at 39%.

On how this statement was fact-checked, and if there were any contradictions

The Small Business Roundtable, which advocates for small businesses, published a survey in May of last year that also supports this claim. At that time, 31% of small businesses reported that they were not operating. Those fairing the worst at the time were hotels, restaurants, cafes and similar businesses.

The Federal Reserve Board published a study in April that offers a slightly different but more hopeful perspective. It found there certainly were a lot of business closures over the past year, but fewer than expected ended up as permanent business closures.

On a widely-shared and inaccurate social media post about Harris and President Joe Biden

This was a Facebook post that claimed Biden and Harris “did not say one word about American troops, veterans or fallen military on Memorial Day.”

That post is simply incorrect. The post points to tweets that Biden and Harris sent out a couple days before the Holiday that do not mention the military. However, over the weekend, both made statements honoring military members and their families.

Biden and Harris participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Biden spoke at a Memorial Day ceremony in Delaware.

“Even last year during those early and dark days of the pandemic, Jill and I didn’t want to let Memorial Day pass, like every other day, and there was no event here, [so] we came to lay a wreath at the plaza,” Biden said. “It was the first time we did any sort of events since the lockdown had begun in March because we were determined to honor the fallen.”

In the end, PolitiFact rated the claim on Facebook as False.