COVID-19

What does the road to economic recovery look like?

Mitchell Hartman Jan 11, 2021
Heard on: Marketplace
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A pharmacist receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Florida. Vaccinations will probably free up consumer spending, but it won't be like turning on a light switch, in the words of one expert. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID-19

What does the road to economic recovery look like?

Mitchell Hartman Jan 11, 2021
A pharmacist receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Florida. Vaccinations will probably free up consumer spending, but it won't be like turning on a light switch, in the words of one expert. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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There are many headwinds holding the economy back right now. But, in the long run, this economy is on track to turn around. Vaccines are here, and nine or so months from now, our lives should be getting back to something like the way they were before the pandemic. 

But nine months is a long time; the pandemic started a little over nine months ago.

So here’s a guide to some of the signposts the economy will pass as it makes its way back.

Even with layoffs mounting and COVID out of control, consumers turned more optimistic heading into the new year.  

Chris Jackson,  a vice president with Ipsos Public Affairs, said the firm’s latest consumer polling — done just before last week’s insurrection in Washington — found “the stimulus really starting to reach people’s pockets.”

“And then, the coronavirus vaccine getting out there, and sort of this idea that there is potentially an end to this long, long nightmare,” he said.

But it could be hard to sustain that optimism in the short term, said economist Robert Frick at Navy Federal Credit Union.

“If retail spending doesn’t climb back, if companies aren’t really investing because so many people have COVID, we can’t ignore how tough the next few months are going to be,” Frick said.

He predicts that six months from now, by midsummer, enough people will have been vaccinated that spending will pick up again. More people will be making restaurant reservations, going out to shop and buying airline tickets.

But, “a lot of people are assuming it’s going to be like a light switch,” Frick said. “Given the troubles with vaccine rollout and the number of people who don’t want to get vaccinated, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, which is herd immunity. That’s going to take probably not until some time next year.”

Harvard economist Jason Furman said the economy is gonna have a lot of fuel to burn. 

“People will have money. They actually had higher incomes after taxes and transfers in 2020 than normal, [and] they had lower spending,” Furman said. “So there will be about $2 trillion of dry powder — of excess saving — to spend.”

Furman said there will be two big problems, though: A lot of long-term unemployed people will be out of savings altogether, and a lot of businesses will have closed their doors for good. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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