Through the two rounds of the Paycheck Protection Program, Congress allocated more than $650 billion in (potentially) forgivable loans to help the country’s small businesses stay afloat while much of the economy was at a standstill. Through May 16, the program’s lenders had dished out 4.3 million approved loans worth more than $513 billion, according to the Small Business Administration. (Disclosure: The INDY received a PPP loan for about $129,000.) 

The Trump administration says the first round of the PPP has saved more than 30 million jobs, though there’s little independent analysis to confirm that. In any event, the program certainly hasn’t been a panacea, and, if consumers aren’t spending by the time its coverage period ends on July 1, it might end up being an expensive Band-Aid on a bullet wound. 

But let’s put that sobering thought aside and focus on a more immediate question: Where did the money go? More precisely: Why didn’t more of it go to North Carolina? 

According to data compiled by the website, there are about 913,400 small businesses in North Carolina. But just 11.9 percent of them—109,032—had received PPP funds by May 16, the date of the most recent SBA report. That percentage ranks North Carolina 48th in the U.S. 

It doesn’t get much better when you look at how much money our businesses received: about $12.2 billion, which works out to roughly $1,170 for every man, woman, and child in the state. That still puts us near the bottom of the barrel—and North Dakota residents got twice as much bang for their buck out of the program. 

With that burr in our saddle, we went searching for patterns: 1) Which states’ small businesses were most likely to get loans? 2) Which states got the most money per resident? 3) Did any of it match the severity of the pandemic? 

The answers: 1) Rural states. 2) States with high costs of living (plus, um, North Dakota). 3) Yes and no—the hardest-hit states tended to get more money, but they also tend to be high-cost areas, and a lower percentage of their businesses received loans. 

There are a few plausible explanations, one of which sticks out: access to banks. The more financial institutions per capita, the more likely small businesses were to get PPP loans. 

North Carolina is second-to-last in per-capita financial institutions. 

Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at 

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