Is the economy recovering? The answer seems to depend on what metrics are used.
There is no question that things are slowly getting back to normal. As more Americans receive their vaccine doses, lockdowns are being lifted around the country. Most of the smaller states – typically those with conservative governments – have already ended pandemic restrictions. Even the larger ones have followed suit; California, the largest state, is scheduled to fully reopen on August 15. The state has even launched a “vaccine lottery” program to incentivize more Californians to receive vaccinations before then.
However, other numbers can tell a different story. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s April jobs report indicated that only a small fraction of projected jobs had actually been created. The reasons for this slowdown are debatable; some have pointed to the Biden administration’s generous unemployment benefits, which they contend keep Americans from seeking work. As a result, two dozen states have voluntarily ended their unemployment benefits two months before their scheduled expirations; some have packaged the benefits as hiring bonuses for unemployed workers finding work. Other economists, however, have questioned the connection between these benefits and unemployment.
On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America Corp., offered a cautiously optimistic picture. Moynihan argued that, either due to the reopening or to the supply of stimulus money, consumer spending had surged in recent months, fueling the economic recovery. He noted that Bank of America data indicated that spending had increased roughly 20 percent during 2021 to more than $1 trillion total. He suggested that part of the increase was due to increased travel, including car rentals, plane fare, and hotel spending, while also noting that spending had shifted from grocery stores to restaurants, which are typically more expensive.
The research team at Bank of America concluded that the U.S. economy would grow by 7 percent during 2021 and 5.5 percent during 2022, due to increases in loans and borrowing capacity. Moynihan indicated that the bank’s priority would be on capturing loan growth going forward, noting that this was a sector that declined substantially during the pandemic, as most Americans did not want to invest during the downturn of the pandemic.
Finally, Moynihan highlighted supply chain issues and labor shortages as risks to the recovery. He pointed to a survey conducted in spring 2021, indicating that businesses had recurring problems keeping a steady supply of workers and goods. However, he suggested that these problems would work themselves out in the longer term, and the Biden administration would not be able to easily correct them.
Trevor Filseth is a news reporter and writer for the National Interest.