Trillions of dollars in federal aid to households and businesses has allowed the U.S. economy to emerge from the first six months of the coronavirus pandemic in far better shape than many observers had feared last spring.
But that spending has now largely dried up and hopes for a major news aid package before the November 3 election are shaky, though the virus persists and millions of Americans remain unemployed. Already, there are signs that the economic rebound is losing steam, as some measures of consumer spending growth decelerate and job gains slow. Applications for jobless benefits rose in middle of September, with about 805,000 Americans filing for state unemployment benefits.
The combination of a moderating economic rebound and fading government support are an eerie echo of the weak period that followed the recession of 2007 to 2009. In the view of many analysts, a premature pullback in government support then led to a grinding recovery that left legions of would-be employees out of work for years. In recent weeks, prominent economists have warned that both the United States and Europe, where many early responses are drawing to a close, were at risk of repeating that mistake by cutting of government aid too soon.
The initial response was good, but the markets need more. The decision to pull back on spending a decade ago really prolonged the period of weakness.
Last month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had agreed to restart talks on another economic relief package. But Ms. Pelosi was more circumspect about negotiations and deep divisions remain about the scope and type of aid needed.
The ability to reach a compromise in the coming weeks has been further complicated by a looming confirmation battle to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) on the Supreme Court.
That’s one of the market’s great concern, that we’re going leave and not have a stimulus covid package put together before January / February 2021.
The RBG factor is making a quick agreement even less likely: The economic revival is slowing, but not as sharply as some economists predicted would happen, once expanded unemployment insurance and other programs began to ebb.
Job growth slowed in July and August but remained positive. Consumer spending, which rebounded sharply when federal money started flowing in April, has likewise seen a more gradual rebound but has not fallen. Layoffs, as measured by claims for unemployment insurance, have continued to trend downward, although they remain high by historical standards.
But many economists said that allowing the economy to slow at the current moment – with millions out of work or underemployed – could lead to long-term economic scarring. Employers have still hired back fewer than half of the 22 million workers they laid off in March and April, and the unemployment rate is higher than it was at the peak of many past recessions. Even optimistic forecasts imply that gross domestic product will shrink more this year than in the worst year of the last recession. We’ve to realize that a stalling recovery when we’re stalling at near the worst point of the great recession is a terrible outcome. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, made clear during congressional hearings last month that the economy, while recovering, would likely need more support.
“The power of fiscal policy is unequaled, by really anything else,” he said and added, “We need to stay with it, all of us,” adding, “the recovery will go faster if there’s support coming both from Congress and from the Fed.”
Some economists already warn that the economy could begin to shrink again if Congress doesn’t act. Many households were able to save in the spring, thanks to federal aid and shutdown orders that kept them from spending money on restaurant meals and hotel stays. Households socked away about one-third of their disposable incomes in April, and while the savings rate has come down since, it remained sharply elevated from precrisis levels through July. That should create some buffer.
But those funds won’t sustain jobless families indefinitely, now that extra unemployment benefits have expired and a partial supplement supported by re-purposed federal funds is on the brink of running out. And businesses that were kept afloat during the summer may struggle when colder weather puts an end to outdoor dining and other activities.
There are in our opinion important differences between the two crisis eras, especially in the United States. The economy was far stronger before the pandemic hit than in 2007, when inflated home prices, risky lending and financial engineering had left the banking system vulnerable. And policy makers responded far more quickly and aggressively this time around.
The Fed cut interest rates close to zero in March, before data showing widespread economic damage had even begun to emerge. In the last crisis, the Fed didn’t take that step until the end of 2008, a year after the recession had begun.
The European Central Bank rolled out large bond-buying programs, something monetary policymakers in the currency bloc resisted in the immediate aftermath of the 2009 crisis.
But central banks have less room to adjust their policies to bolster growth now than they did a decade ago. Interest rates and inflation have fallen to low levels across advanced economies, stealing potency and ‘fire power’ from monetary policy tools that work by making credit cheap.
That’s where fiscal policy – elected officials’ ability to tax and spend – comes in. Economic theory suggests that fiscal policy can be affective at times when monetary policy is not.
Initially, policymakers across advanced economies seemed far more willing to spend heavily and a mass huge deficits than they were during the last crisis, at least in part because the same low interest rates that were robbing central banks of their power have made payments on government debt lower.
In the early days of the crisis, Congress approved legislation that sent direct payments to most American households, established a small-business assistance program and added 600 US-Dollar a week to unemployment checks, while expanding the system to cover millions more jobless workers. Together, the programs dwarfed the response to the last recession.
The aggressive response was successful. After shedding millions of workers in March and April, companies began bringing them back in May and June. Stimulus checks and the extra 600 dollars per week lifted personal incomes in April and May, buoying spending. A predicted wave of foreclosures and evictions largely failed to materialize. By August, the unemployment rate had fallen to 8.4%, defying expectations that it would remain in double digits into next year.
Mr. Powell said government spending should get “credit” for the pace of the rebound but warned that risks remain if key programs are allowed to permanently lapse. As unemployed workers run through their savings, they might pull back on spending and lose their homes,
Without more help “we’ll see sooner or later, probably sooner, that the economy has a hard time sustaining the growth that we’ve seen – that’s the risk,” he said.
Economists said Mr. Powell appeared to have learned a lesson from the aftermath of the last recession: When the Fed is forced to try to rescue the economy on its own, the result is a painfully slow recovery that takes years to reach many of the most vulnerable households.
The consequences of another slow recovery in our opinion would almost certainly fall disproportionately on low-income families, many of them Black and Hispanic. Those workers were among the last to benefit from the plodding recovery after the last recession and have been among the hardest hit by the current crisis.
This pandemic as we see it, even by the efforts already taken, could very well create an even greater inequality in the U.S. than there was before the pandemic. Some in our opinion are going to be able to get through this much, much better than others, and those that are not! This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime situation that could very well cripple them for a generation, if politicians don’t take some of the necessary steps in the next few weeks and months ahead.