The idea of the American Rescue Plan—the package passed by Congress and signed by President Biden in early March—was to help out Americans struggling during the pandemic, while also stimulating the economy. That’s why the package included $1,400 payments to most Americans so that they could survive and also hopefully spend some of that money.
According to a new government report issued Thursday, stimulus has succeeded in driving purchases, at least so far.
According to an article on CNBC, the Commerce Department reported that retail sales in the United States jumped 9.8 percent in March, as stimulus checks arrived during the latter part of the month. The 9.8 percent figure blew past the Dow Jones estimate of 6.1 percent, the article said.
The gain represented the biggest month for the category since May of 2020, which was the month immediately following the passage of another major stimulus package, the CARES Act.
“Retail trade sales were up 9.4 percent (±0.5 percent) from February 2021, and up 26.9 percent (±0.7 percent) above last year,” the Commerce Department report said. “Motor vehicle and parts dealers were up 71.1 percent (±2.3 percent) from March 2020, while food services and drinking places were up 36.0 percent (±3.0 percent) from last year.”
The report found that sporting goods, clothing and food and beverage all showed big gains in March. The bar and restaurant industry, which struggled massively during the pandemic, had a huge month in March, jumping 13.4 percent, due in part to the relaxing of restrictions in many parts of the country.
The 26.9 percent gain over last year can largely be explained by the pandemic beginning in the U.S. in March of 2020.
Economists predicted that spending will likely drop for April.
“Spending will almost certainly drop back in April as some of the stimulus boost wears off, but with the vaccination rollout proceeding at a rapid pace and households finances in strong shape, we expect overall consumption growth to continue rebounding rapidly in the second quarter too,” Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note, as mentioned in an article on CNBC.
Multiple surveys released since the passage of the American Rescue Plan have shown that recipients of the stimulus checks have spent more on paying bills than anything else, although the Commerce Department retail figures show that a great deal of money is also going towards discretionary spending on restaurants and other things.
The IRS and other government agencies announced this week that they had sent out the latest tranche of stimulus checks, consisting of 2 million checks valued at $3.4 billion. More of the payments went out digitally than was the case with previous rounds of payments. April 14 was also when checks went out to recipients who receive VA benefits but who do not file tax returns.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.