Discrimination in lending? Evidence from the Paycheck Protection Program

Rachel Atkins, Lisa Cook, Robert Seamans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abstract: We assess the role of race in loans made through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP program, created by the U.S. government as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, provides loans to small businesses so they can keep employees on their payroll. We argue that the historical record and PPP program design choices made it likely that many Black-owned businesses received smaller PPP loans than White-owned businesses. Using newly released data on the PPP program, we find that Black-owned businesses received loans that were approximately 50% lower than observationally similar White-owned businesses. The effect is marginally smaller in areas with more bank competition and disappeared over time as changes to the PPP program were implemented allowing for entry by fintechs and other non-traditional lenders. Plain English Summary: We find that Black-owned businesses received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program that were approximately 50 percent lower than White-owned businesses with similar characteristics. However, this difference in loan size shrank over time as more non-bank lenders such as fintechs were allowed to participate in the program and began approving PPP loans. Loan size differences were also slightly smaller in zip codes containing a larger number of bank branches. These results are consistent with prior research which shows lending discrimination by commercial banks against Black borrowers. It is also consistent with studies showing that greater access to and competition among banks and other lenders can reduce discrimination. In light of these results we recommend that policy makers account for existing racial inequalities within banking or other systems in their program design to produce more equitable outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)843-865
Number of pages23
JournalSmall Business Economics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • Discrimination in financial markets
  • Minority-owned firms
  • Overcoming discriminatory barriers
  • Racial discrimination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Economics and Econometrics


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