The Initial Impacts of COVID-19 on the Self-Employed

By Professor Nicholas Biddle, Ben Edwards, Professor Matthew Gray and Kate Sollis (ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods)


This paper provides a summary of the initial impacts of COVID-19 on the self-employed based on data from the 33rd ANUpoll which collected information from 3,155 Australians over the period 14-27 April 2020. It is the first longitudinal survey data on the impact of COVID-19 in Australia, with respondents to the April ANUpoll also interviewed in January and February 2020. The data shows that the negative impact of COVID-19 on the probability of being employed is similar for the self-employed and employees. On other measures, however, the self-employed have been more adversely affected by COVID-19 than the rest of the workforce. Compared to employees, the self-employed had a higher reduction in hours worked, a greater reduction in income, an increase in the probability of not thinking current income was sufficient to meet expenditure (compared to a decline for employees) and a higher chance of accessing retirement savings and/or superannuation early.

Within the self-employed population, almost half experienced a decrease in profits that was either ‘substantial’, completely eliminated, or had gone out of business. Finally, almost a third of the self-employed did not think their business was viable over the next two months if current trends continued. This uncertainty appears to be leading to significant fear, anxiety, and psychological distress amongst the self-employed.

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