OpEd: Why We Should Oppose Bills Like the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (Cook County, IL) — The Southland Black Chamber of Commerce & Industry is a regional chamber of commerce working to strengthen a sound and healthy business climate in the Cook, Will, Kankakee, and Grundy County areas. Black Americans and black businesses have been hit disproportionately hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows a national 41% drop in the number of active Black business owners from February through April in 2020, versus a 17% drop in white business owners.
But our community is strong and resilient. In Illinois and across the country, Black entrepreneurs bounced back. A 2022 Brookings report found there has been a surge of new online microbusinesses and that Black owners account for 26% of all new microbusinesses, up from 15% before the pandemic. We have seen that growth around the Southland and our Chamber has worked hand in hand with them to help these new business owners succeed. Digital tools and an online presence have been critical to launching and growing these businesses.
In a survey of 2,000 U.S. small business owners and senior decision makers, digital tools have helped “level the playing field” for all Americans, as they disproportionately help diverse small and medium sized business (SMB) leaders work more efficiently, drive more revenue, and create more jobs. 85% of Hispanic-led and 83% of Black-led SMBs (7% and 5% higher than the 78% average) recognize a noticeable impact when using digital tools to expand their business. And 85% of both Hispanic and Black SMB leaders (each 6% higher than the 79% average) said that digital tools increased their businesses’ ability to collaborate, work efficiently, be more agile, and shift strategy in response to changed circumstances.
Why then, is Congress is considering legislation that could compromise the very digital tools upon which our member businesses rely? The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, S.2992, is designed to stop self-preferencing by major technology platforms. While that might sound good in theory, in fact that means that digital services, often available for free, may disappear behind a paywall or disappear completely. Services like free Amazon Prime Delivery, Google Maps, and Google Reviews being returned in search results; many popular software products or applications that bundle a suite of services together and give consumers a discount, such as Adobe Suite, may no longer be allowed should this bill pass. Just like our communities were disproportionately impacted by COVID, so too are we bearing the brunt of inflation.
A national poll — from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health — showed that more than half of Black and Latino households report the recent price increases driven by inflation have caused them “serious financial problems.” Now is not the time to increase costs for business owners and the families in their community.
It is also worth noting that technology platforms regularly promote their own tools to help consumers find and patronize minority-owned and local businesses. Any prohibition on services promoting their own tools could hinder these valuable services and make it harder for customer to patronize Black-owned businesses.
Neighborhood businesses are the backbone of a community and we have been proud to help existing businesses survive the pandemic and work with new entrepreneurs start new businesses in the face of such challenging times. August is Black Business Month. We encourage all of you in the Southland to support your Black-owned businesses and we encourage Congress to oppose bills like the American Innovation and Choice Online Act that will make it harder or more expensive for Black entrepreneurs to succeed.
OpEd: Why We Should Oppose Bills Like the American Innovation and Choice Online Act