Waiting for the recovery in the US

By Christophe Blot

As with the economic performance of all the industrialized countries, economic activity fell off sharply in the second quarter of 2020 across the Atlantic before rebounding just as sharply the following quarter. The management of the crisis in the US is largely in the hands of the different States, and the election of Joe Biden should not change this framework since he declared on November 19 that he would not order a national lockdown. However, the health situation is continuing to deteriorate, with more than 200,000 new Covid-19 cases per day on average since the beginning of December. As a result, many States are adopting more restrictive prophylactic measures, although without returning to a lockdown like the one in the Spring. This situation could dampen economic prospects for the end of the year and also for the start of the mandate of the new President elected in November. Above all, it makes it even more necessary to implement a new recovery plan, which was delayed by the election.

As in the euro zone, recovery in the US kicked off as soon as the lockdown was lifted. GDP grew by 7.4% in the third quarter after falling by 9% in the previous quarter. Compared with the level of activity at the end of 2019, the economic downturn amounted to 3.5 points, versus 4.4 points in the euro zone. The labour market situation also improved rapidly, with the unemployment rate falling by 8 points, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for November, from its April peak of 14.7%. These results are the logical consequence of the lifting of restrictions but also of the large-scale stimulus plans approved in March and April, which have massively absorbed the loss of income for households and to a lesser extent for US companies (see here). However, the upturn in consumption is still being dampened by some ongoing restrictions, particularly in sectors with strong social interactions, where spending is still nearly 25% lower than it was in the fourth quarter of 2019 (Figure 1). As for the consumption of goods, it has been much less affected by the crisis and is down only 12% from its pre-crisis level for durable goods and 4.4% for non-durable goods. Nevertheless, most of these support measures have come to an end, and as of this writing the discussions that began in late summer in Congress have not yet led to an agreement between Republicans and Democrats. Despite the rebound, the health impact of the pandemic and the economic consequences of the lockdown on the labour market require a discretionary policy in a country where the automatic stabilizers are generally considered to be weaker[1]. New support measures will be all the more necessary as a further tightening of restrictions is looming and the recovery seem to be running out of steam. The initial consumption figures for the month of October point to a fall in the consumption of services, and employment also stabilized in November, remaining well below its level at the end of 2019.

However, after the setback of the discussions in Congress, it will now be necessary to wait until the first quarter of 2021 for a new support plan to be approved and for a possible reorientation of US fiscal policy after Joe Biden’s victory. In the Autumn, the Democrats proposed a 2 trillion dollar (9.5 GDP points) package, almost as much as the 2.4 trillion dollar (10.6 GDP points) package adopted in March-April 2020[2]. The aid would, among other things, support the purchasing power of the unemployed through an additional federal payment. Although unemployment is much lower than in the second quarter, it remains above its pre-crisis level and is now characterized by an increase in long-term unemployment for which there is generally no compensation. In November, the share of those who had been unemployed for at least 27 weeks was 37 per cent (or 3.9 million people, Figure 2), and the median duration of unemployment had risen from 9 weeks at the end of 2019 to almost 19 weeks in November 2020. In addition, States whose tax revenues have decreased with the crisis could benefit from a federal transfer, thereby avoiding spending cuts[3].

However, despite the end of the suspense over the outcome of the presidential elections, the political and economic uncertainty has not been completely resolved. Indeed, it will not be known until early January whether the Democrats will also have a majority in Congress. They have certainly kept the House of Representatives, but it will be necessary to wait until the beginning of January for the Senate, with a ballot planned in Georgia that will determine the political colour of the last two seats [4]. Both seats are now held by Republican senators. However, Joe Biden won Georgia by 0.2 points against Donald Trump, the first victory in the State for a Democratic candidate since 1992. With both State-wide senatorial elections to be contested directly, the results are likely to be close.  If one of the Democratic candidates is defeated, Joe Biden will be forced to contend with the opposition. But, as Paul Krugman points out, the Republicans are generally more inclined, once in opposition, to promote austerity. This is reflected in the uncertainty indicators of Bloom, Baker and Davies, whose economic policy uncertainty rose in November (Figure 3). This uncertainty is certainly lower than in the Spring but remains higher than that observed between 2016 and 2019. During this period, growth could weaken, and then a strong recovery is likely to be followed by more subdued growth, which will have repercussions on the labour market. Regardless of the outcome, a plan will likely be approved in the first quarter of 2021, but its adoption could take longer if it is conditional on an agreement between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. However, this could be lengthy given the urgency of the health and social crisis, and could plunge a significant proportion of the most vulnerable into poverty.

Source : Baker, Bloom & Davis. https://www.policyuncertainty.com/index.html


[1] See for example Dolls, M., Fuest, C. & Peichl, A., 2012, “Automatic stabilizers and economic crisis: US vs. Europe”, Journal of Public Economics, 96(3-4), pp. 279-294.

[2] By comparison, the European programmes are weaker, ranging from 2.6 GDP points for France to 7.2 points for the UK.

[3] Note that the States generally have fiscal rules limiting their capacity to run a deficit.

[4] Of the 100 seats in the Senate, the Republicans already hold 50. In the event of a tie between the two parties, it is the voice of the Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris that will decide between them. A single victory in Georgia would therefore allow the Republicans to retain the majority.

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Europe/US: How has fiscal policy supported income?

By Christophe BlotMagali Dauvin and Raul Sampognaro

The sharp fall in activity and its brutal social consequences have led governments and central banks to enact ambitious support measures to cushion the shock, which resulted in an unprecedented global recession in the first half of 2020, as discussed in Policy Brief 78 . Faced with a health crisis that is unprecedented in contemporary history, requiring forced shutdowns to curb the spread of the virus, governments have taken urgent measures to prevent the onset of an uncontrolled crisis that could permanently alter the economic trajectory. Three main types of measures have been taken: some aim to maintain consumer purchasing power in the face of the shutdowns; others seek to preserve the production system by targeting business; and some are specific to the health sector. The quarterly national accounts, available at the end of the first half of the year, provide an update on the extent to which the disposable income of private agents has been preserved by fiscal policy at this stage of the Covid-19 crisis [2].

Continue reading “Europe/US: How has fiscal policy supported income?”
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The COVID-19 crisis and the US labour market: Rising inequality and precariousness in perspective

By Christophe Blot

In the United States as in France, the COVID-19 crisis has led to numerous measures restricting economic activities intended to limit the spread of the virus. The result will be a fall in GDP, which is already showing up in figures for the first quarter of 2020, and which will be much steeper in the second quarter. In a country noted for its weak employment protection, this unprecedented recession is quickly having repercussions on the labour market, as reflected in the rise in the unemployment rate from a low point of 3.5% in February to 14.7% in April, a level not seen since 1948. As Bruno Ducoudré and Pierre Madec have recently demonstrated in the case of France, the current crisis in the United States should also result in heightened inequalities and insecurity. And the shock will be all the greater in the US since the social safety net is less extensive there.

Continue reading “The COVID-19 crisis and the US labour market: Rising inequality and precariousness in perspective”
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Trump’s budget policy: Mortgaging the future?

By Christophe Blot

While the momentum for growth has lost steam in some countries – Germany, France and Japan in particular – GDP in the United States is continuing to rise at a steady pace. Growth could even pick up pace in the course of the year as a highly expansionary fiscal policy is implemented. In 2018 and 2019, the fiscal stimulus approved by the Trump administration – in December 2017 for the revenue component, and in February 2018 for the expenditure side – would amount to 2.9 GDP points. This level of fiscal impulse would come close to that implemented by Obama for 2008. However, Trump’s choice has been made in a very different context, since the unemployment rate in the United States fell back below the 4% mark in April 2018, whereas it was accelerating 10 years ago, peaking at 9.9% in 2009. The US economy should benefit from the stimulus, but at the cost of accumulating additional debt. Continue reading “Trump’s budget policy: Mortgaging the future?”

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The end of a cycle?

OFCE Analysis and Forecasting Department

This text is based on the 2018-2019 outlook for the world economy and the euro zone, a full version of which is available here [in French].

Global growth remained buoyant in 2017, allowing both the recovery and the reduction in unemployment to continue, especially in the advanced countries where growth rose to 2.3%, up from 1.6% the previous year. Although there are still a few countries where GDP has not recovered to its pre-crisis level, this improvement will gradually erase the stigma of the Great Recession that hit the economy 10 years ago. Above all, activity seemed to be gathering pace at the end of the year as, with the exception of the United Kingdom, annual GDP growth continued to pick up pace (Figure 1). However, the gradual return of the unemployment rate to its pre-crisis level and the closing of growth differentials, particularly in the United States and Germany, which had widened during the crisis, could foreshadow a coming collapse of growth. The first available estimates of growth in the first quarter of 2018 seem to lend credence to this assumption. Continue reading “The end of a cycle?”

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The Janus-Faced Nature of Debt

by Mattia Guerini, Alessio Moneta, Mauro Napoletano, Andrea Roventini

The financial and economic crises of 2008 have been intimately interwined with the dynamics of debt. As a matter of fact, a research by Ng and Wright (2013) reports that in the last thirty years all the U.S. recessions had financial origins. Continue reading “The Janus-Faced Nature of Debt”

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Trends in labour force participation rates in Europe during the Great Recession: The role of demographics and job polarization

By Guillaume Allègre and Gregory Verdugo

In Europe as in the United States, employment fell considerably during the Great Recession. Moreover, over the last few decades, the labour markets in both regions have been reshaped by the forces of automation and globalization. However, the response of labour force participation to these changes has varied from country to country. One of the most significant developments in the US labour market over the past decade has been the decline in labour force participation. Between 2004 and 2013, the labour force participation rate for the group aged 25 to 54 fell by 2.6 percentage points (from 83.8% to 81.1%), a decline that has persisted well beyond the end of the Great Recession. In the EU-15, on the other hand, the participation rate for this age group increased by 2 percentage points during the same period (from 83.7% to 85.6%), despite low growth and the persistence of high levels of unemployment. Continue reading “Trends in labour force participation rates in Europe during the Great Recession: The role of demographics and job polarization”

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The reduction of the US Fed’s balance sheet: When, at what pace and with what impact?

By Paul Hubert

US monetary policy began to tighten in December 2015, with the Fed’s key rate moving from a target range of 0 – 0.25% to 0.75 – 1% in 15 months. To complement its monetary policy, the Fed also manages the size of its balance sheet, which is a result of programmes to purchase financial stock (also called quantitative easing programmes). The Fed’s balance sheet now comes to 4,400 billion dollars (26% of GDP), compared with 900 billion dollars in August 2008 (6% of GDP). The improvement in the economic situation in the United States and the potential risks associated with QE pose questions about the timing, pace and consequences of the normalization of this unconventional tool. Continue reading “The reduction of the US Fed’s balance sheet: When, at what pace and with what impact?”

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Could Trump really re-industrialize the United States?

By Sarah Guillou

Callicles to Socrates: “What you say is of no interest to me, and I will continue to act as I have previously, without worrying about the lessons you claim to give.” Gorgias, Chapter 3

Only 8% of the jobs in the United States are now in industry. Donald Trump, the new President of the United States, wants to reindustrialize America and is speaking out against the opening of factories abroad and the closing of local factories. Is there any economic rationale for the indiscriminate communications of the new US President? Continue reading “Could Trump really re-industrialize the United States?”

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