Small Business Saturday: Women, Black business owners lead Illinois growth in entrepreneurship

November 22, 2021

Restaurants, retail businesses still missing 104,000 jobs since before pandemic


CONTACT: Melanie Krakauer (312) 607-4977

Small Business Saturday: Women, Black business owners lead Illinois growth in entrepreneurship
Restaurants, retail businesses still missing 104,000 jobs since before pandemic 

CHICAGO (Nov. 22, 2021) – Waves of unemployment and an unstable economy during the pandemic have led to a rise in small business owners in Illinois, with women and Black owners leading the charge, a new analysis finds.

The nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute found Illinois has more than 1.6 million small business owners to honor as Small Business Saturday approaches on Nov. 27. That is a growth of 138,000 new entrepreneurs since 2019. Women and Black business owners are growing at the fastest rates, with 13% more women launching small businesses and Black business owners more than doubling since prior to the pandemic.

“It is normal to see rising small business ownership during an economic downturn such as the kind Illinois experienced following COVID-19 lockdowns. Many individuals turned to entrepreneurship to provide for their families or are leaning-in to more autonomous work conditions to balance work and families,” said Bryce Hill, senior research analyst at the Illinois Policy Institute. “It’s notable that women and Black workers were hit hardest by job losses at the onset of the COVID-19 downturn, and now are the groups seeing the largest increase in self-employment.”

“During the pandemic, we opened our third Kilwin’s location at Navy Pier. And, the lockdown inspired me to consider different ways to keep myself afloat; I studied trends in the restaurant business, and that gave me the confidence to pivot and do something besides desserts. I am currently in the process of opening a Fat Burger, which is a West Coast chain,” said Jackie Jackson, a Black woman owner of Kilwins ice cream and chocolate shop in downtown Chicago.

While the number of small businesses in Illinois is growing, owners are employing fewer workers than in the past. And not every industry has recovered. There are 29% fewer restaurant and food businesses compared to before the pandemic. The industry still has 87,900 fewer jobs.

“Supply chain issues, labor shortages and inflation are all making operating a small business more challenging,” Hill said. “Small businesses are vital to Illinois’ economy and are responsible for the majority of job growth during the past decade. We need these businesses to thrive to give the state the best chance for a full economic recovery.”

An Illinois Policy Institute analysis finds:

  • Male small business owners have increased by 7.3% - about half the rate of women entrepreneurs - though there are still more of them in total. Businesses run by white, non-Hispanic owners have increased by 2.6%, while there’s about the same number of businesses run by Hispanic owners as there was before the pandemic.
  • While small retail businesses have grown 41% since 2019, the sector still has 16,300 fewer jobs than before the pandemic.
  • The number of small businesses grew in 2021, after a decline in 2020, indicating last year’s lockdowns could have led to temporary and permanent closures for some businesses.
  • Businesses with fewer than 50 employees were responsible for 70% of Illinois net job growth from 2011-2019.
  • Despite growth in self-employment across Illinois, finding a job is still challenging. There are 286,700 fewer jobs in the Illinois economy than prior to the pandemic. Illinois’ unemployment rate is also among the highest in the nation at 6%, leaving 370,400 Illinoisans out of work.

To read more about the state of small businesses, visit

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