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Efforts in the spring of 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19 resulted in a sharp contraction in U.S. economic growth and an unprecedented, rapid rise in unemployment. While the first wave of the pandemic slowed the spring housing market, home sales rebounded sharply over the rest of the year, with strong gains in house prices. Given the rising house prices and continuing high unemployment, concerns arose that COVID-19 may have negatively affected first-time homebuyers. Using a new and more accurate measure of first-time homebuyers, we find that these buyers have not been adversely affected by the pandemic. At the same time, gains from lower mortgage rates have gone to existing homeowners and not to households purchasing their first home.
Florin Bilbiie, Gauti Eggertsson, Giorgio Primiceri, and Andrea Tambalotti
How will the U.S. economy emerge from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? Will it struggle to return to prior levels of employment and activity, or will it come roaring back as soon as vaccinations are widespread and Americans feel comfortable travelling and eating out? Part of the answer to these questions hinges on what will happen to the large amount of “excess savings” that U.S. households have accumulated since last March. According to most estimates, these savings are around $1.6 trillion and counting. Some economists have expressed the concern that, if a considerable fraction of these accumulated funds is spent as soon as the economy re-opens, the ensuing rush of demand might be destabilizing. This post argues that these savings are not that excessive, when considered against the backdrop of the unprecedented government interventions adopted over the past year in support of households and that they are unlikely to generate a surge in demand post-pandemic.
David Dam, Meghana Gaur, Fatih Karahan, Laura Pilossoph, and Will Schirmer
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the various measures put in place to contain it caused a rapid deterioration in labor market conditions for many workers and plunged the nation into recession. The unemployment rate increased dramatically during the COVID recession, rising from 3.5 percent in February to 14.8 percent in April, accompanied by an almost three percentage point decline in labor force participation. While the subsequent labor market recovery in the aggregate has exceeded even some of the most optimistic scenarios put forth soon after this dramatic rise, the recovery has been markedly weaker for the Black population. In this post, we document several striking differences in labor market outcomes by race and use Current Population Survey (CPS) data to better understand them.
Ruchi Avtar, Rajashri Chakrabarti, and Maxim Pinkovskiy
The introduction of numerous social distancing policies across the United States, combined with voluntary pullbacks in activity as responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, resulted in differences emerging in the types of work that were done from home and those that were not. Workers at businesses more likely to require in-person work—for example, some, but not all, workers in healthcare, retail, agriculture and construction—continued to come in on a regular basis. In contrast, workers in many other businesses, such as IT and finance, were generally better able to switch to working from home rather than commuting daily to work. In this post, we aim to understand whether following the onset of the pandemic there was a wedge in the incidence of commuting for work across income and race. And how did this difference, if any, change as the economy slowly recovered? We take advantage of a unique data source, SafeGraph cell phone data, to identify workers who continued to commute to work in low income versus higher income and majority-minority (MM) versus other counties.
As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the United States, in just two months—between February and April 2020—the nation saw well over 20 million workers lose their jobs, an unprecedented 15 percent decline. Since then, substantial progress has been made, but employment still remains 5 percent below its pre-pandemic level. However, not all workers have been affected equally. This post is the first in a three-part series exploring disparities in labor market outcomes during the pandemic—and represents an extension of ongoing research into heterogeneities and inequalities in people’s experience across large segments of the economy including access to credit, health, housing, and education. Here we find that some workers were much more likely to lose their jobs than others, particularly lower-wage workers and those without a college degree, as well as women, minorities, and younger workers. However, as jobs have returned during the recovery, many of these differences have narrowed considerably, though some gaps are widening again as the labor market has weakened due to a renewed surge in the coronavirus. The next post in the series examines differences in patterns of commuting during the pandemic, and finds that workers in low-income and Black- and Hispanic-majority communities were more likely to commute for work. The final post in the series analyzes unemployment dynamics during the pandemic, and finds that Black workers experienced a lower job-finding rate and a higher separation rate into unemployment than white workers during the recovery, though this trend has reversed to some extent recently.
Andreas I. Mueller, Johannes Spinnewijn, and Giorgio Topa
In addition to its terrible human toll, the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused massive disruption in labor markets. In the United States alone, more than 25 million people lost their jobs during the first wave of the pandemic. While many have returned to work since then, a large number have remained unemployed for a prolonged period of time. The number of long-term unemployed (defined as those jobless for twenty-seven weeks or longer) has surged from 1.1 million to almost 4 million. An important concern is that the long-term unemployed face worse employment prospects, but prior work has provided no consensus on what drives this decline in employment prospects. This post discusses new findings using data on elicited beliefs of unemployed job seekers to uncover the forces driving long-term unemployment.
Jaison R. Abel, Jason Bram, Richard Deitz, and Jonathan Hastings
The New York-Northern New Jersey region experienced an unprecedented downturn earlier this year, one more severe than that of the nation, and the region is still struggling to make up the ground that was lost. That is the key takeaway at an economic press briefing held today by the New York Fed examining economic conditions during the pandemic in the Federal Reserve’s Second District. Despite the substantial recovery so far, business activity, consumer spending, and employment are all still well below pre-pandemic levels in much of the region, and fiscal pressures are mounting for state and local governments. Importantly, job losses among lower-wage workers and people of color have been particularly consequential. The pace of recovery was already slowing in the region before the most recent surge in coronavirus cases, and we are now seeing signs of renewed weakening as we enter the winter.
Olivier Armantier, Leo Goldman, Gizem Koşar, Jessica Lu, Rachel Pomerantz, and Wilbert van der Klaauw
In this post we analyze consumer beliefs about the duration of the economic impact of the pandemic and present new evidence on their expected spending, income, debt delinquency, and employment outcomes, conditional on different scenarios for the future path of the pandemic. We find that between June and August respondents to the New York Fed Survey of Consumer Expectations (SCE) have grown less optimistic about the pandemic’s economic consequences ending in the near future and also about the likelihood of feeling comfortable in crowded places within the next three months. Although labor market expectations of respondents differ considerably across fairly extreme scenarios for the evolution of the COVID pandemic, the difference in other economic outcomes across scenarios appear relatively moderate on average. There is, however, substantial heterogeneity in these economic outcomes and some vulnerable groups (for example, lower income, non-white) appear considerably more exposed to the evolution of the pandemic.
Rajashri Chakrabarti, Sebastian Heise, Davide Melcangi, Maxim Pinkovskiy, and Giorgio Topa
In our previous post, we looked at the effects that the reopening of state economies across the United States has had on consumer spending. We found a significant effect of reopening, especially regarding spending in restaurants and bars as well as in the healthcare sector. In this companion post, we focus specifically on small businesses, using two different sources of high-frequency data, and we employ a methodology similar to that of our previous post to study the effects of reopening on small business activity along various dimensions. Our results indicate that, much like for consumer spending, reopenings had positive and significant effects in the short term on small business revenues, the number of active merchants, and the number of employees working in small businesses. It is important to stress that we are not expressing any views in this post on the normative question of whether, when, or how states should loosen or tighten restrictions aimed at controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.
William Chen, Marco Del Negro, Michele Lenza, Giorgio Primiceri, and Andrea Tambalotti
U.S. inflation used to rise during economic booms, as businesses charged higher prices to cope with increases in wages and other costs. When the economy cooled and joblessness rose, inflation declined. This pattern changed around 1990. Since then, U.S. inflation has been remarkably stable, even though economic activity and unemployment have continued to fluctuate. For example, during the Great Recession unemployment reached 10 percent, but inflation barely dipped below 1 percent. More recently, even with unemployment as low as 3.5 percent, inflation remained stuck under 2 percent. What explains the emergence of this disconnect between inflation and unemployment? This is the question we address in “What’s Up with the Phillips Curve?,” published recently in Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.
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