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Why Reopening Isn't Enough To Save The Economy – NPR

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Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of Planet Money‘s newsletter. You can sign up here.

Geoff Caddick/AFP via Getty Images

Brooklyn Heights sits across the East River from Lower Manhattan. It’s filled with multimillion-dollar brownstones and — usually — Range Rovers, Teslas and BMWs. These days it’s easy to find parking. The brownstones are mostly dark at night. The place is a ghost town. And the neighborhood’s sushi restaurants, Pilates studios, bistros and wine bars are either closed or mostly empty. It’s a microcosm for what has been the driver of the pandemic recession: Rich people have stopped going out, destroying millions of jobs.

That’s one of the key insights of a blockbuster study that was dropped late last week by a gang of economists led by Harvard University’s Raj Chetty. If you don’t know who Chetty is, he’s sort of like the Michael Jordan of policy wonks. He’s a star economist. He and his colleagues assemble and crunch massive data sets and deliver insights that regularly shift core economic debates about inequality and opportunity. This new study focuses on the economic impact of COVID-19 and the government response. To us nerds, this is like Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and Chetty just swooped in at a crucial moment to drop some threes.

Raj Chetty

Opportunity Insights


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Opportunity Insights

On the day the study came out, Chetty participated in a Zoom webinar sponsored by Princeton University’s Bendheim Center for Finance. Dressed in a white-collared shirt with bookshelves as his background, Chetty took us all through the study. The data? Good lord. They’ve assembled several gigantic new data sets from private companies, including credit and debit card processors and national payroll companies. The data are all freely available online, updated in real time and presented in an easily digestible form. Chetty and his team have crunched it all to give some precise insights about consumer spending, jobs and the geographic impact of the crisis. The study represents an advance for economics as a science, and it has got some bombshells.

First up, consumer spending. Typically, Chetty said, recessions are driven by a drop in spending on durable goods, like refrigerators, automobiles and computers. This recession is different. It’s driven primarily by a decline in spending at restaurants, hotels, bars and other service establishments that require in-person contact. We kinda already knew that. But what the team’s data show is that this decline in spending is mostly in rich ZIP codes, whose businesses saw a 70% drop-off in their revenue. That compares with a 30% drop in revenue for businesses in poorer ZIP codes.

Second, jobs. This 70% fall in revenue at businesses in rich ZIP codes led those businesses to lay off nearly 70% of their employees. These employees are mostly low-wage workers. Businesses in poorer ZIP codes laid off about 30% of their employees. The bottom line, Chetty said in his presentation, is that “reductions in spending by the rich have led to loss in jobs mostly for low-income individuals working in affluent areas.”

Third, the government rescue effort. They find it has mostly failed. The $500 billion Paycheck Protection Program, which has given forgivable loans to businesses with fewer than 500 employees, doesn’t appear to have done much to save jobs. When the researchers compare the employment trends of businesses with fewer than 500 employees with those with more, the smaller businesses eligible for PPP don’t see a relative boost after the program went into effect. It looks like the program didn’t do its job of saving jobs. Meanwhile, the stimulus checks, while increasing spending, did not have much stimulative effect because the spending mostly flowed to big companies like Amazon and Walmart. The money didn’t flow to the rich ZIP code, in-person service businesses most affected by the downturn. Overall, the federal rescue package, they find, has failed to rescue the businesses and jobs getting hammered most by the pandemic.

Finally, there are state-permitted reopenings: They don’t seem to boost the economy either. Chetty and his team compare, for example, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minnesota allowed reopening weeks before Wisconsin, but if you look at spending patterns in both states, Minnesota did not see any boost compared with Wisconsin after it reopened. “The fundamental reason that people seem to be spending less is not because of state-imposed restrictions,” Chetty said. “It’s because high-income folks are able to work remotely, are choosing to self-isolate and are being cautious given health concerns. And unless you fundamentally address that concern, I think there’s limited capacity to restart the economy.”

Economist Raj Chetty, in a Zoom webinar, shows that despite Minnesota opening weeks before Wisconsin, it didn’t see a boost in consumer spending.

Bendheim Center for Finance, Princeton University


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Bendheim Center for Finance, Princeton University

As long as rich people are scared of the virus, they won’t go out and spend money, and workers in the service sector will continue to suffer. Low-income workers — especially those whose jobs focused on providing services in rich urban areas — are in for a period of turbulence. Many of these workers are getting a lifeline in the form of unemployment insurance, but some of these benefits will expire soon if the federal government doesn’t act.

Economists have learned from previous shocks like this one that the labor market doesn’t just easily adjust to them. Workers have a hard time moving and retraining. For example, after over a million manufacturing jobs evaporated in the Rust Belt with the explosion of Chinese imports in the early 2000s, people stayed in the places that lost jobs and failed to get new ones, and many of them, in despair, ended up turning to alcohol and opioids, with tragic results.

Chetty and his team conclude that the traditional tools of economic policy — tax cuts and spending increases to boost demand — won’t save the army of the unemployed. Instead, they say we need public health efforts to restore safety and convince consumers that it’s OK to start going out again. Until then, they argue, we need to extend unemployment benefits and provide assistance to help low-income workers who will continue to struggle in the pandemic economy.

Next month, the federally funded unemployment benefits passed by Congress to help Americans during the pandemic are set to expire. This groundbreaking study provides a strong case to Washington to think about extending them.

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Ontario Introduces Legislation to Protect Public Health as Economy Reopens – Government of Ontario News

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Proposed Bill Would Provide Flexibility to Address the Ongoing Threat of COVID-19

TORONTO — Today, the Ontario government introduced proposed legislation that, if passed, would give the province the necessary flexibility to address the ongoing risks and effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. The proposed legislation is part of the government’s plan for the continued safe and gradual reopening of the province once the declaration of emergency ends.

Details about the proposed legislation were provided today by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.

“If passed, the proposed legislation would allow us to chart a responsible path to economic reopening and recovery without putting all the progress we’ve made in fighting this virus at risk,” said Premier Ford. “Even as we continue certain emergency orders under the proposed legislation to protect public health, we will always be a government accountable to the people of Ontario. That’s why I will ensure ongoing updates are provided and that a report is tabled within four months of the anniversary of this proposed Act coming into force.”

“While the declaration of emergency may come to an end shortly, the risk posed by COVID-19 is likely to be with us for some time to come,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “This new legislation would provide the government with the necessary flexibility to ensure select tools remain in place to protect vulnerable populations, such as seniors, and respond to this deadly virus.”

The Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 would, if passed, ensure important measures remain in place to address the threat of COVID-19 once the provincial declaration of emergency has ended. Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Continue emergency orders in effect under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) under the new legislation for an initial 30 days.
  • Allow the Lieutenant Governor in Council to further extend these orders for up to 30 days at a time, as required to keep Ontarians safe.
  • Allow the Lieutenant Governor in Council to amend certain emergency orders continued under the EMCPA if the amendment relates to:
    • labour redeployment or workplace and management rules;
    • closure of places and spaces or regulation of how businesses and establishments can be open to provide goods or services in a safe manner;
    • compliance with public health advice; or
    • rules related to gatherings and organized public events.
  • Not allow new emergency orders to be created.
  • Allow emergency orders to be rescinded when it is safe to do so.

The ability to extend and amend orders under the new legislation would be limited to one year, unless extended by the Ontario legislature. Appropriate oversight and transparency would be ensured through regular, mandated reporting that provides the rationale for the extension of any emergency order. The legislation would include the same types of provisions on offences and penalties as set out under the EMCPA to address non-compliance with orders.

Quick Facts

  • The termination of the provincial emergency declaration under the EMCPA, or the passage of the proposed Act, would not preclude a head of council of a municipality from declaring under the EMCPA that an emergency exists in any part of the municipality or from continuing such a declaration.
  • The termination of the provincial emergency declaration under the EMCPA, or the passage of the proposed Act, would not preclude the exercise of the powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health or local medical officers of health.
  • The Government of Ontario declared a provincial declaration of emergency under s.7.0.1 of the EMCPA on March 17, 2020. The declaration has been extended under s.7.0.7 of the EMCPA and is in place until July 15, 2020, allowing the province to continue to make new emergency orders or amend existing orders under the EMCPA until that date.
  • On June 26, 2020, emergency orders then in effect that were made under section 7.0.2 of the EMCPA were extended to July 10.
  • A full list of current emergency orders in effect under the EMCPA can be found on the e-Laws website under the EMCPA and at Ontario.ca/alert.

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William Watson: My hunch is the economy will bounce back quickly when this ‘Great Compression’ ends – Financial Post

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George Santayana meet Milan Kundera. Santayana (1863-1952) was the Spanish-born American philosopher most famous for saying: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Kundera (1929-) is a Czech-born French writer whose best-known work, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” holds that individual experience is “light” because it is not repeated. So its capacity to teach is limited. Which thinker, I wonder, is the best guide to the COVID economy?

The economists Robert Hall of Stanford University and Marianna Kudlyak of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank have recently discovered a remarkable regularity about the 11 postwar U.S. recessions: however high the unemployment rate rises it pretty much always declines at the rate of 0.85 percentage points per year.

In 2020, that is terrible news. As they write, with the unemployment rate about “nine percentage points above normal … it would take 11 years (nine divided by 0.85) to work off the pandemic’s bulge of unemployment as it currently stands.” (Granted, that was before the rate fell 2.2 points from May to June alone.)

The saving grace is that the current recession is like no other in American — or Canadian — history

We only just completed a long labour market recovery from the crash of 2008 (though we did complete it, with unemployment rates hitting long-term lows). No one wants another 10-year slog back to full employment. As three economists from the C.D. Howe Institute show elsewhere on this page, if the recovery does turn out to be slow, then in terms of accumulated lost output the current downturn will at least rival and may even “blow past” the other big recessions of recent memory (1982 and 1990).

The saving grace is that the current recession is like no other in American — or Canadian — history. (Take that, Santayana!) In fact it’s not so much a recession, with economic activity ebbing for reasons that often seem mysterious, as it is a compression. The Great Compression, you might call it. For reasons everyone understands though not everyone agrees with, the government hammered the economy shut for a couple of months by either literally outlawing many normal economic interactions or at least strongly discouraging them.

Will the recovery from such an unprecedented shutdown follow the pattern of previous recoveries (i.e., slow but inevitable) or will it go more quickly? My hunch is that when the compression does end the economy will bounce back relatively quickly. Hall and Kudlyak at least hold out that possibility, pointing to data showing that the overwhelming majority of today’s unemployed “anticipate being recalled to jobs from which they have been temporarily laid off, within the coming six months.” In the best-case scenario, these workers “return to their existing jobs rapidly without sacrificing their job-specific human capital” or going through the normal try-it-and-quit, try-it-and-quit search for a job that finally fits.

The last few data points from the U.S. are encouraging in this regard, with unemployment claims falling and employment and growth expectations rising faster than forecast.

What could go wrong? A second wave of the virus, obviously — though future lockdowns will be more targeted and therefore less costly economically.

Beyond that, there are three main problems.

First, the lucky among us have been working and earning as usual but spending less, either because things we like to spend on simply haven’t been available or because we fear our jobs are at risk, too. That creates a classic Keynesian problem of underconsumption. But figuring ways to encourage consumption shouldn’t be a problem for our tax policy people. Over the years they’ve devised all sorts of gimmicks to encourage this or that. Egging on ordinary consumption would be a novel challenge for them but one they can overcome. And it doesn’t require building new transportation systems or massive new solar arrays.

Second, we’ve got a structural problem: no one wants to fly, stay at hotels, ride the subway, dine out or go to movies or shows until doing so is safe again. There’s no Keynesian solution for that. The people in the affected industries either have to figure out ways to make it safe or find something else to do, whether for a time or for good. Travel agents, good with phones, could become contact-tracers. Pilots could operate heavy equipment. Chefs, projectionists, actors, salespeople and countless others? Jobs building infrastructure likely won’t help.

Our third big problem is government getting in the way. Relief money phases out too slowly. Infrastructure programs — probably the wrong answer anyway — take too long to come on line (they always do!). “Stimulus packages” get devoured by rent-seekers and the government’s pet projects.

With a leadership vacuum at the top the U.S. seems likely to have a ramshackle, unplanned recovery. But its first shoots are bright green and very promising. My bet is we in Canada take a much more scientific, planned and deliberate approach and, as a result, recovery takes a lot longer — especially if, looking down our noses at southern-state infection rates, we keep the border closed into the fall.

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Stocks slide from one-month high on economy jitters – BNN

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European stocks dropped from a one-month high as officials warned the economy will take longer to recover and Germany reported weaker-than-expected industrial data. U.S. futures slid and the dollar advanced.

All but one of the 19 industry groups in the Stoxx Europe 600 Index fell, with real estate and technology shares bearing the brunt of the selling. Bayer AG lost 5.5 per cent after its plan for handling future Roundup cancer claims hit a snag. Treasuries edged higher alongside most European bonds.

In Asia, Chinese stocks powered ahead for a sixth day, although at a slower pace. Iron ore futures jumped and the offshore yuan briefly strengthened through the 7 per dollar level for the first time since March.

Investors are catching their breath after a ferocious rally that pushed the Nasdaq Composite to a record high. While recent reports show that global economy could be past the worst of the slump, it’s a long road back to pre-crisis levels.

The European Commission gave its starkest warning yet about the impact of the pandemic, with the divergences between richer and poorer countries opening up even further than projected two months ago. Officials now forecast a contraction of 8.7 per cent in the euro area this year, a full percentage point deeper than previously predicted.

Here are some key events coming up:

  • The EIA crude oil inventory report comes Wednesday.
  • All eyes will be on the U.S. weekly jobless claims report on Thursday.
  • Singapore holds its general election on Friday.
  • Rate decisions in Australia and Malaysia Tuesday.

These are the main moves in markets:

Stocks

  • Futures on the S&P 500 Index declined one per cent as of 10:45 a.m. London time.
  • The Stoxx Europe 600 Index sank 1.1 per cent.
  • The MSCI Asia Pacific Index declined 0.7 per cent.
  • The MSCI Emerging Market Index sank 0.7 per cent.

Currencies

  • The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index jumped 0.5 per cent.
  • The euro decreased 0.4 per cent to US$1.1266.
  • The British pound fell 0.2 per cent to US$1.2469.
  • The onshore yuan weakened 0.1 per cent to 7.025 per dollar.
  • The Japanese yen weakened 0.4 per cent to 107.73 per dollar.

Bonds

  • The yield on 10-year Treasuries declined one basis point to 0.67 per cent.
  • The yield on two-year Treasuries climbed less than one basis point to 0.16 per cent.
  • Germany’s 10-year yield declined one basis point to -0.44 per cent.
  • Britain’s 10-year yield fell one basis point to 0.192 per cent.
  • Japan’s 10-year yield increased one basis point to 0.046 per cent.

Commodities

  • West Texas Intermediate crude sank 1.5 per cent to US$40.04 a barrel.
  • Brent crude fell 1.2 per cent to US$42.60 a barrel.
  • Gold weakened 0.5 per cent to US$1,776.29 an ounce.

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