After forty-three months of forbearance, the pause on federal student loan payments has ended. Originally enacted at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the administrative forbearance and interest waiver lasted until September 1, 2023, and borrowers’ monthly payments resumed this month. As discussed in an accompanying post, the pause on student loan payments afforded borrowers over $260 billion in waived payments throughout the pandemic, supporting borrowers’ consumption and savings over the last three years. In this post, we analyze responses of student loan borrowers to special questions in the August 2023 SCE Household Spending Survey designed to gauge the expected impact of the payment resumption on future spending growth, the risk of credit delinquency for borrowers, and the economy at large. The findings suggest that the payment resumption will have a relatively small overall effect on consumption, on the order of a 0.1 percentage point reduction in aggregate spending from August levels, and a (delayed) return of student loan delinquency rates back to pre-pandemic levels. Across groups, we see little variation in spending responses but find that low-income borrowers, female borrowers, those with less than a bachelor’s degree, and those who were not in repayment before the pandemic expect the highest likelihood of missed student loan payments.
Household saving soared in the United States and other high-income economies during the pandemic, as consumers cut back on spending while government policies supported incomes. More recently, saving behavior has diverged, with the U.S. saving rate dropping below its pre-pandemic average while saving rates elsewhere have remained above their pre-pandemic averages. As a result, U.S. consumers have been spending down the “excess savings” built up during the pandemic while the excess savings abroad remain untapped. This divergent behavior helps explain why U.S. GDP has returned to its pre-pandemic trend path even as GDP levels in other high-income economies continue to run well below trend.
Editors Note: The title of this post has been changed from the original. August 17, 2023, 10:35 a.m.
Inflation in the U.S. has experienced unusually large movements in the last few years, starting with a steep rise between the spring of 2021 and June 2022, followed by a relatively rapid decline over the past twelve months. This marks a stark departure from an extended period of low and stable inflation. Economists and policymakers have expressed differing views about which factors contributed to these large movements (as reported in the media here, here, here, and here), leading to fierce debates in policy circles, academic journals, and the press. We know little, however, about the consumer’s perspective on what caused these sudden movements in inflation. In this post, we explore this question using a special module of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE) in which consumers were asked what they think contributed to the recent movements in inflation. We find that consumers think supply-side issues were the most important factor behind the 2021-22 inflation surge, while they regard Federal Reserve policies as the most important factor behind the recent and expected future decline in inflation.
The debate about the natural rate of interest, or r*, sometimes overlooks the point that there is an entire term structure of r* measures, with short-run estimates capturing current economic conditions and long-run estimates capturing more secular factors. The whole term structure of r* matters for policy: shorter run measures are relevant for gauging how restrictive or expansionary current policy is, while longer run measures are relevant when assessing terminal rates. This two-post series covers the evolution of both in the aftermath of the pandemic, with today’s post focusing especially on long-run measures and tomorrow’s post on short-run r*.
This post presents an updated estimate of inflation persistence, following the release of personal consumption expenditure (PCE) price data for December 2022. The estimates are obtained by the Multivariate Core Trend (MCT), a model we introduced on Liberty Street Economics last year and covered most recently in a January post. The MCT is a dynamic factor model estimated on monthly data for the seventeen major sectors of the PCE price index. It decomposes each sector’s inflation as the sum of a common trend, a sector-specific trend, a common transitory shock, and a sector-specific transitory shock. The trend in PCE inflation is constructed as the sum of the common and the sector-specific trends weighted by the expenditure shares.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve placed restrictions on large banks’ dividends and share repurchases. These restrictions were intended to enhance banks’ resiliency by bolstering their capital in light of the very uncertain economic environment and concerns that banks might face very large losses should bad-case scenarios come to pass. When it became clear that the outlook had improved and that the losses banks experienced were unlikely to threaten their stability, the Federal Reserve removed these restrictions. In this post, we look at what happened to large banks’ dividends and share repurchases during and after the pandemic-era restrictions, tracking these shareholder payouts relative to bank profits to understand how these payments impacted large banks’ capital during this period.
In a January 2022 post, we first presented the Global Supply Chain Pressure Index (GSCPI), a parsimonious global measure designed to capture supply chain disruptions using a range of indicators. In this post, we review GSCPI readings through December 2022, and then briefly discuss the drivers of recent moves in the index. While supply chain disruptions have significantly diminished over the course of 2022, the reversion of the index toward a normal historical range has paused over the past three months. Our analysis attributes the recent pause largely to the pandemic in China amid an easing of “Zero COVID” policies.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s November 2022 SCE Labor Market Survey shows a rise in the average reservation wage—the lowest wage respondents would be willing to accept for a new job—to $73,667, its highest level since the series began in 2014. Respondents’ satisfaction with wage compensation, non-wage benefits, and promotion opportunities at their current job all improved in November compared to July. Regarding expectations, the average expected wage offer (conditional on receiving one) also increased and reached a new high.
Since the start of the pandemic, home prices in the U.S. have increased by an astonishing 40 percent. The New York-Northern New Jersey region saw a similar meteoric rise, as home prices shot up by 30 percent or more almost everywhere—even in upstate New York, where economic growth was sluggish well before the pandemic hit. New York City is the exception, where home price growth was less than half that pace. Indeed, home prices actually declined in Manhattan early in the pandemic, though they have rebounded markedly since. Much of the region’s home price boom can be traced to the rise in remote work, which increased the already strong demand for housing at a time when housing inventories were low and declining. Home price increases have largely outpaced income gains through the pandemic boom, resulting in a reduction in housing affordability in the region. However, with mortgage rates rising, it appears that the region’s housing boom is waning, as it is for the nation as a whole, with prices leveling off, though the inventory of available homes remains historically low.
Although most of those infected with COVID-19 have recovered relatively quickly, a substantial share has not, and remains symptomatic months or even years later, in what is commonly referred to as long COVID. Data on the incidence of long COVID is scarce, but recent Census Bureau data suggest that sixteen million working age Americans suffer from it. The economic costs of long COVID is estimated to be in the trillions. While many with long COVID have dropped out of the labor force because they can no longer work, many others appear to be working despite having disabilities related to the disease. Indeed, there has been an increase of around 1.7 million disabled persons in the U.S. since the pandemic began, and there are close to one million newly disabled workers. These disabled workers can benefit from workplace accommodations to help them remain productive and stay on the job, particularly as the majority deal with fatigue and brain fog, the hallmarks of long COVID.