Is the Economic Recovery Already Underway?
The Wall Street Journal just released their latest monthly Survey of Economists. In an article on the findings, they reported:
“The U.S. economy will be in recovery by the third quarter of this year, economists said in a survey that also concluded the labor market will fare better than previously expected following the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Clearly, the latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed the labor market is outperforming expectations, as it revealed that 2.5 million jobs were added. Directly before the release, experts forecasted that we would lose over 8 million jobs.
A second revelation indicating the economy is already about to turn around was also somewhat unexpected. More than 9 out of 10 economists surveyed believe the recovery has already begun this quarter or will begin in the third quarter. Here are the results of the survey question asking when the recovery will begin:The survey also asked what type of recovery the economists expect.
More than 8 out of 10 believe it will be a form of a ‘V’ recovery:
- A true ‘V’ with a sharp drop and a sharp rebound
- A ‘Nike Swoosh’ with a sharp drop and a more gradual recovery, coined after the company’s logo
Some experts, possibly concerned about a second wave of COVID-19, call for a ‘W’ recovery – a double dip recession.
Others call for a ‘U’ with a prolonged bottom.
A very small percentage project the dreaded ‘L’ recovery, which is no recovery at all for the foreseeable future (think of the Great Recession).
Though we still have a long and difficult journey ahead, it appears the worst for both the economy and the unemployment situation may be in our rearview mirror.
The Shocking News in the Unemployment Report
Last Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released their May Employment Situation Summary. Leading up to the release, most experts predicted the unemployment rate would jump up to approximately 20% from the 14.7% rate announced last month.
The experts were shocked.
The Wall Street Journal put it this way:
“The May U.S. jobless rate fell to 13.3% and employers added 2.5 million jobs, blowing Wall Street expectations out of the water: Economists had forecast a loss of 8.3 million jobs and a 19.5% unemployment rate.”
In addition, CNBC revealed:
“The May gain was by far the biggest one-month jobs surge in U.S. history since at least 1939.”
Here are some of the job gains by sector:
- Food Service and Bartenders – 1,400,000
- Construction – 464,000
- Education and Health Services – 424,000
- Retail – 368,000
- Other Services – 272,000
- Manufacturing – 225,000
- Professional Services – 127,000
There’s still a long way to go before the economy fully recovers, as 21 million Americans remain unemployed. That number is down, however, from 23 million just last month. And, of the 21 million in the current report, 73% feel their layoff is temporary. This aligns with a recent Federal Reserve Bank report that showed employers felt 75% of the job losses are temporary layoffs and furloughs.
The Employment Situation Summary was definitely a pleasant surprise, and evidence that the country’s economic turnaround is underway. The data also offers a labor-market snapshot from mid-May, when the government conducted its monthly survey of households and businesses. Many states did not open for business until the second half of May. This bodes well for next month’s jobs report.
We cannot rejoice over a report that reveals millions of American families are still without work. We can, however, feel relieved that we are headed in the right direction, and much more quickly than most anticipated.
Three Things to Understand About Unemployment Statistics
Tomorrow morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the latest Employment Situation Summary, which will include the most current unemployment rate. It will be a horrific number. Many analysts believe unemployment could be greater than 20%. These numbers represent families across the nation that are not sure when (or if) they will return to work. The emotional impact on these households is devastating.
There are, however, some small rays of light shining through on this issue. Here are three:
1. The actual number of unemployed is less than many are reporting
The number of people unemployed is sometimes over-exaggerated. It seems that every newscaster talks about the 40+ million people “currently” unemployed. It is true that, over the last ten weeks, over 40.7 million people have applied for unemployment. It is also true, however, that many of those people have already returned to work or gotten a new job. The actual number of people currently unemployed is 21.1 million. This is still a horrible number, but about half of what is often being reported.
2. Of those still unemployed, most are temporary layoffs
Last month’s unemployment report showed that 90% of those unemployed believe their status is temporary. Friday’s report will probably show a decline in that percentage as the original number was somewhat optimistic. However, a recent survey by the Federal Reserve Bank showed that employers believe over 75% of job losses are temporary layoffs and furloughs. This means 3 out of 4 people should be returning to work as the economy continues to recover.
3. Those on unemployment are receiving assistance
According to a recent study from the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago, 68% of those who are eligible for unemployment insurance receive benefits that exceed lost earnings, with 20% receiving benefits at least twice as large as their lost earnings.
Tomorrow’s report will be difficult to digest. However, as the nation continues to reopen, many of those families who are impacted will be able to return to work.
Unemployment Report: No Need to Be Terrified
Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its latest jobs report. It revealed that the economic shutdown made necessary by COVID-19 caused the unemployment rate to jump to 14.7%. Many anticipate that next month the percentage could be even higher. These numbers represent the extreme hardship so many families are experiencing right now. That pain should not be understated.
However, the long-term toll the pandemic will cause should not be overstated either. There have been numerous headlines claiming the current disruption in the economy is akin to the Great Depression, and many of those articles are calling for total Armageddon. Some experts are stepping up to refute those claims.
In a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article this past weekend, Josh Zumbrun, a national economics correspondent for the Journal explained:
“News stories often describe the coronavirus-induced global economic downturn as the worst since the Great Depression…the comparison does more to terrify than clarify.”
Zumbrun goes on to explain:
“From 1929 to 1933, the economy shrank for 43 consecutive months, according to contemporaneous estimates. Unemployment climbed to nearly 25% before slowly beginning its descent, but it remained above 10% for an entire decade…This time, many economists believe a rebound could begin this year or early next year.”
What makes this time so different?
This was not a structural collapse of the economy, but instead a planned shutdown to help mitigate the virus. Once the virus is contained, the economy will immediately begin to recover. This is nothing like what happened in the 1930s. In the same WSJ article mentioned above, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who has done extensive research on the depression in the 1930s, explained:
“The breakdown of the financial system was a major reason for both the Great Depression and the 2007-09 recession.” He went on to say that today – “the banks are stronger and much better capitalized.”
What about the families and small businesses that are suffering right now?
The nation’s collective heart goes out to all. The BLS report, however, showed that ninety percent of the job losses are temporary. In addition, many are getting help surviving this pause in their employment status. During the Great Depression, there were no government-sponsored unemployment insurance or large government subsidies as there are this time.
Today, many families are receiving unemployment benefits and an additional $600 a week. The stimulus package is helping many companies weather the storm. Is there still pain? Of course. The assistance, however, is providing much relief until most can go back to work.
We should look at the current situation for what it is – a predetermined pause placed on the economy. The country will recover once the pandemic ends. Comparisons to any other downturn make little sense. Bernanke put it best:
“I don’t find comparing the current downturn with the Great Depression to be very helpful. The expected duration is much less, and the causes are very different.”