After suffering the steepest and fastest recession in history amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. economy began to recover in May and June at a more robust pace than most analysts expected.
Economists largely credit trillions of dollars in federal aid that kept consumers spending, including $1,200 stimulus checks, generous unemployment benefits, and forgivable federal loans to small businesses that retained or rehired employees.
But clawing back the rest of the lost ground is likely to be a tougher slog. The federal programs are expiring unless Congress quickly votes to extend them in some form. Some companies, particularly in travel and retail, are laying off workers permanently. And amid spikes in coronavirus cases across much of the country, many states are at least partly shutting down businesses that had reopened.
Start the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.
The comeback so far was not evident in a Commerce Department report on economic growth in the second quarter, which revealed the biggest decline in U.S. gross domestic product on record. That’s chiefly because the economy fell off a cliff in April.
But other recent data on jobs, housing and retail sales underscore the strength of the rebound to date.
Here’s a look at six key trends to help you grasp the economy’s health:
GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT
Gross domestic product, or GDP, the value of all goods and services produced in the country, fell at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5% in the first quarter. A report this week revealed a record 32.9% tumble in the second quarter, the most since the 2008 recession. The healthy rebound anticipated in the second half of the year is likely to still leave GDP below its pre-pandemic level.
The share of the U.S. workforce without a job had been in steady decline since 2009, reaching a 50-year low of 3.5% in February. But unemployment shot up to 14.7% in April 2020, highest since the Great Depression, before dropping to 11.1% by June as restaurants, retailers and other small businesses rehired workers. After losing 22 million jobs in March and April, the nation recouped 7.5 million in May and June.
Monthly percentage changes:
CONSUMER CONFIDENCE INDEX
After plunging to a six-year low in April, the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rebounded strongly in June but remained well below pre-crisis levels with another decline in July.
U.S. retail sales tumbled a record 14.7% in April before climbing 18.2% in May and 7.5% in June, leaving total sales just 1% below the January level. But with states reversing reopenings, further strong gains could be tougher to achieve.
Monthly percentage changes:
Existing housing sales slipped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.3 million in April and 3.9 million in May before surging a record 20.7% to 4.7 million in June on record low mortgage rates and pent-up demand. Some economists expect additional gains in coming months but that could be jeopardized by reopening rollbacks that hurt job gains.
Monthly sales in millions, seasonally adjusted:
The S&P 500, a broad measure of U.S. stocks, tracked the economy’s initial fall but rebounded much sooner. After plummeting 34% from its late February high, the index began climbing back in March and is just 4.4% off its all-time high as of July 23.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The COVID economy in 6 charts: Rebounding from recession could prove tougher in months ahead