Anecdotes like that of Mr. Geismann, however, are not easy to interpret. Perhaps Schuchart and companies like it would have found another way to make ends meet, or would have rehired workers quickly once construction projects resumed.

Economists have tried to answer this question using data. Mr Autor compared companies of just under 500 employees – who could qualify for the original version of the program – with those of just over that size, which they do not. If the loans were of great help, then small businesses should have retained a lot more of their workers. Instead, Mr. Autor found little difference between the two groups.

But some economists argue that such research underestimates the impact of the program because it does not focus on smaller businesses, which were less likely to have large cash reserves or other funding.

A paper, based on a survey of businesses in Oakland, Calif., found that those who received PPP loans were 20.5% more likely to say they expected to survive six months, but that the relatively greater optimism was limited to companies with fewer than five employees.

Robert Bartlett, one of the authors of the Oakland study, said economists like Mr Autor might be right that the P3 saved fewer jobs than hoped. “But for these small businesses, I think it helped them keep their doors open,” he said. ” I’m convinced. Many of these businesses, he noted, are located in poor neighborhoods or are owned by racial or ethnic minorities.

Daniel G. Guerra Jr. founded AltusLearn, which offers training and compliance courses for medical workers, in 2013. Last year, the company, based in Madison, Wis., Had six employees and was on the on track for a year of significant growth.

Instead, when the pandemic began, medical centers halted virtually all elective care and canceled training.