September 21, 2021

Biden’s New Vaccine Push Is a Fight for the U.S. Economy

Data from Homebase, which provides time-management software to small businesses, show that employment in entertainment, dining and other coronavirus-sensitive sectors has fallen in recent weeks as the Delta variant has spread. But the decline is smaller than during the spike in cases last winter, suggesting that economic activity has become less sensitive to the pandemic over time. Other measures likewise show that economic activity has slowed but not collapsed as cases have risen.

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That trend has helped bolster overall consumer spending and hiring in the short term and helped keep the economy on track for its fastest annual growth in a quarter century. But there is a risk that it will be undercut by a continued pandemic dampening of labor force participation. Economists who have tracked the issue say that even if consumers have grown more accustomed to shopping or dining out as cases rise, there is little sign that would-be workers, even vaccinated ones, have become more accepting of the risks of returning to service jobs as the pandemic rages.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that employers are eager to hire,” said Andrew Atkeson, an economist at the University of California at Los Angeles who has released several papers on the economics of the pandemic. “The problem is not that people aren’t spending. It’s that people are still reluctant to go back to work”

The Delta wave also appears to be sidelining some workers by disrupting child care and, in some cases, schools — forcing parents to take time off or to delay returning to jobs.

Some forecasters believe the combination of rising vaccination rates and a growing share of Americans who have already contracted the virus will soon arrest the Delta wave and set the economy back on track for rapid growth, with small-business hiring and restaurant visits rebounding as soon as the end of this month. “Now is the time to start thinking about the post-Delta world,” Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a research note this month.

Other economists see the possibility that a continued Delta wave — or a surge from another variant in the months to come — will substantially slow the recovery, because potential workers in particular remain sensitive to the spread of the virus.

“That’s a very real danger,” said Austan Goolsbee, a former head of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama whose research earlier in the pandemic showed fear, not government restrictions, was the driving force behind lost economic activity from the virus.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/09/us/politics/biden-vaccines-economy.html

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