‘Bidenomics’ on Main Street: Lending to women-owned small businesses tops $5 billion, SBA reports

It wasn’t too long ago that women who needed business capital didn’t struggle to access it — they simply couldn’t get it, at least not without a male relative to co-sign on a loan. There’s been considerable progress since 1988 when that law was changed, but the gender gap in access to capital is persistent from investor equity to bank loans.

Last year, women-founded companies received less than 3% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups in the U.S. Globally, the situation is even more severe, with a gender credit gap faced by women-owned small and medium sized enterprises estimated at $1.5 trillion, according to Goldman Sachs. 

That makes the latest data from the Small Business Administration’s fiscal 2023 year an important milestone to track for the U.S. business ecosystem: Loans to women-owned small businesses topped the $5 billion mark in fiscal 2023 and now represent 1 in 5 loans (21.3%) made to small businesses. According to the Census Bureau’s most recent Annual Business Survey, around 1.24 million (21.4%) of employer-owned businesses are women-owned.

The $5 billion figure for fiscal 2023 isn’t a peak — loan volume reached $5.7 billion in 2021 — but the Biden administration is touting the data for the 2020-2023 period as part of its “Bidenomics” push ahead of next year’s election. And the 21% mark for share of loan volume was a record.

“Women-owned small businesses are helping to power America’s historic small business boom, and the Biden-Harris Administration remains committed to ensuring women receive the capital and resources they need to build resilient businesses and create jobs to fuel our economy,” said SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman in a release on Wednesday afternoon timed to the 35th anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act (H.R. 5050), which among other things, made lending directly available to female entrepreneurs. “Bidenomics is about growing our economy equitably,” she added.

According to the SBA, there were over 13,059 SBA 7(a) and 504 loans to women-owned small businesses during fiscal year 2023, up from 7,715 in 2020. The $5.18 billion in total loans was up 61% from 2020′s $3.2 billion.

While the scope of influence of women entrepreneurs’ in the economy is difficult to track in real time, women-owned businesses have an estimated $1.9 trillion in receipts, 10.9 million employees, and $432.1 billion in annual payroll, according to Census, whose annual data is available through calendar year 2020.

The SBA loan numbers come amid one of the most difficult credit environments in recent history, with the Federal Reserve pushing up interest rates by more than 5% in a year, sending small business loan rates into the double-digit percentages. A survey released by Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices on Wednesday reported that 78% of small business owners worried about access to capital and over half (53%) said they cannot afford a loan at current rates.

SBA’s 7(a) loan program provides guarantees to lenders that offer financing to small businesses, up to $5 million. SBA’s 504 loans provide long-term, fixed-rate financing of up to $5.5 million for major fixed asset purchases.

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