Find the latest episode of "The Uncertain Hour" here. Listen
COVID-19

When will consumers start feeling better about the future?

Sabri Ben-Achour May 25, 2020
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
A reopened Indiana barber shop in mid-May. Consumer confidence may be improving as people begin to return to their usual activities. Scott Olson/Getty Images
COVID-19

When will consumers start feeling better about the future?

Sabri Ben-Achour May 25, 2020
Heard on:
A reopened Indiana barber shop in mid-May. Consumer confidence may be improving as people begin to return to their usual activities. Scott Olson/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The Conference Board’s measure of consumer confidence is out Tuesday. Economists are wondering if — maybe even hoping — there might be some improvement since April’s dramatic declines, now that states are opening back up a bit. 

How do you feel right now, and how do you feel about the future? Those are the two big measures of consumer confidence. Some indicators show that people are starting to feel a little better about the right now, even a little safer.  

“They’re beginning to engage back into society,” said Ashley Kirzinger, an associate director with the Public Opinion and Survey Research team of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. “Now, as states begin to open back up, the public is starting to engage in usual activities like going to get a haircut or going to the doctor.”

That slow increase in confidence aligns with this month’s Michigan consumer sentiment survey.  But, how people feel about the future hasn’t been looking good recently.

“You actually had the forward-looking index continue to decline,” said David Deull, an economist with IHS Markit. “People are realizing the economic damage from this pandemic is going to last.”

Deull said states relaxing rules can only go so far — the ultimate drivers of confidence come down to jobs and what the virus does.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

Read More

Collapse

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.