A month into efforts to broadly reopen the U.S. economy there is little clarity either on the pace and durability of the recovery, or on the ability to convincingly suppress the virus that has killed more than 112,000 Americans.
Data on cellphone traffic, employee time management and weekly unemployment claims point to an ongoing and steady climb back – but one that shows stark divisions among states, and some evidence the spread of the novel coronavirus may be greater in places where economic activity is picking up faster.
The situation may mean tough choices for policymakers in the weeks to come.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has ruled out another shutdown of the U.S. economy regardless of the trajectory of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. That will leave it to states and local governments to balance concerns about public health with waning patience across the country for a return to the strict measures taken in March and April to slow the spread of the virus.
At the same time, economic activity is not bouncing back fast or uniformly, slowly sorting the country into potential winners and losers in the pandemic response, and raising the stakes of a debate in Congress over whether to provide more emergency funding to blunt the economic fallout. Deadlines are already passing for aid to some small businesses, and enhanced unemployment benefits expire for many workers in late July.
Data on small businesses collected by time management firm Homebase shows the dynamic. Companies that have reopened have quickly restored employment to pre-shutdown levels. National averages remain low, Homebase suggested, because so many firms have not been able to reopen at all.