U.S. Jobless Claims Fall, but Layoffs Continue: Live Updates

U.S. jobless claims fall in mid-September, but the economy still suffering  lots of layoffs - MarketWatch

New claims for state unemployment insurance fell last week, but layoffs continue to come at an extraordinarily high level by historical standards.

Initial claims for state benefits totaled 790,000 before adjusting for seasonal factors, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The weekly tally, down from 866,000 the previous week, is roughly four times what it was before the coronavirus pandemic shut down many businesses in March.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the total was 860,000, down from 893,000 the previous week.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global. “We’ve got a long way to go, and there’s still a risk of a double-dip recession.”

The situation has been compounded by the failure of Congress to agree on new federal aid to the jobless.

A $600 weekly supplement established in March that had kept many families afloat expired at the end of July. The makeshift replacement mandated by President Trump last month has encountered processing delays in some states and has funds for only a few weeks.

“The labor market continues to heal from the viral recession, but unemployment remains extremely elevated and will remain a problem for at least a couple of years,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. “Initial claims have been roughly flat since early August, suggesting that the pace of improvement in layoffs is slowing.”

New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency federal program for freelance workers, independent contractors and others not eligible for regular unemployment benefits, totaled 659,000, the Labor Department reported.

Federal data suggests that the program now has more beneficiaries than regular unemployment insurance. But there is evidence that both overcounting and fraud may have contributed to a jump in claims.

 

 

 

 

Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs

https://thehill.com/policy/finance/510368-pandemic-reveals-flaws-of-unemployment-insurance-programs

Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs

The lapse of enhanced jobless benefits amid a record-breaking crush of applications is exposing the flaws and shortcomings of how the U.S. provides unemployment insurance.

The economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic has torn holes in a federal safety net woven by individual systems for every state plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. More than 30.2 million Americans were on some form of unemployment insurance as of mid-July, with the Labor Department reporting a growing number of new applications in subsequent weeks.

Friday’s expiration of a $600 weekly add-on to state benefits plunged those vulnerable Americans into financial peril.

Congressional Democrats and Trump administration officials are now deadlocked over negotiations for a broader coronavirus relief package that’s expected to include some form of federal unemployment benefits.

But short-staffed unemployment offices across the U.S. grappling with outdated technology and unprecedented demand would face challenges from implementing a scaled-down or more complicated approach to the weekly payments.

Economists and labor market experts also warn that any solution that emerges from the negotiations would take weeks, if not months, to get up and running, risking a potentially catastrophic fiscal cliff for tens of millions of U.S. households.

“You ought to be able to deliver the program that’s on the books,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and a White House economist under former President George W. Bush.

“The states, collectively, seem to have not kept up the systems and we now have a big problem because of that,” he added.

The unprecedented size and speed of the pandemic-driven economic collapse has posed a brutal challenge for state unemployment agencies. After 10 years of steady economic expansion, the labor market quickly went from the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years to the highest level of joblessness since the Great Depression.

New claims for unemployment benefits were averaging roughly 200,000 nationwide a week before the pandemic — a manageable level for state agencies that had largely been neglected during the longest stretch of growth in modern U.S. history. But the coronavirus lockdowns spurred 3.3 million new claims between March 15 and March 22, a then-record that would be doubled the following week. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the previous record was 695,000 from the first week of October 1982.

A little more than four months after the pandemic hit, state agencies are now processing roughly 2 million new claims a week for both unemployment insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a program designed to cover those who don’t qualify for typical benefits.

“On some level, you can’t really blame states for not being prepared for that level of onslaught,” said Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.

“Usually, you see the recession starting up and state agencies say ‘You know, this looks like a recession here, so let’s start to staff up.’ This came on all at once, so we’ve had these neglected, antiquated systems and then there’s all these other stressors.”

The U.S. economy has been in recession since February, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Processing the massive surge of unemployment claims on shoddy technology would have been hard enough for states. Adding enhanced benefits and PUA claims to the mix strained state agencies even more.

“It took time to upgrade those systems. It took time to hire and train new staff who could deal with the volumes of the calls, and all in a pandemic, when face-to-face contact and training and being together in office were not possible,” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at job recruitment and posting company ZipRecuriter.

“So it’s easy to see in hindsight why it all fell apart.”

Enhanced unemployment benefits are among the biggest obstacles to reaching a deal on what’s likely to be the last coronavirus relief package before the election. While President Trump and Republicans are divided over how and whether to extend the federal boost, Democrats are largely united behind extending the benefits and reducing them gradually along a curve tied to the unemployment rate.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called for including such a mechanism, known as an automatic stabilizers, in the coronavirus package being negotiated.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee, introduced a separate bill designed to tackle economic downturns beyond the coronavirus recession. His measure would establish a six-tier system for reducing the federal benefit in line with a state’s unemployment rate.

The approach was endorsed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who oversaw the central bank’s response to the Great Recession, and his successor, Janet Yellen.

“Every time you get close to a cliff and there’s a political battle and political price to be paid, probably by both sides, rather than just saying ‘This is what’s needed,’ let’s kick it in,” Beyer said in an interview.

“We talked to economists all across the country and virtually everyone we talked to said this makes the most sense.”

But Republican lawmakers and right-leaning economists have pushed back on efforts to codify mandatory spending and make decisions now about what will be needed to mitigate future crises.

“It’s hard for me to understand why it’s appropriate now to anticipate the economic conditions in the future and tie the hands of future elected representatives of Congress,” Holtz-Eakin said.

“It forked out $2.3 trillion in [the CARES Act] across the board in ways that got to small businesses, to households, to the employed, the unemployed. If you’re going to have one in 100-year events, that’s how you deal with them,” he added.

Republicans have instead proposed replacing the flat $600 weekly boost with a percentage of the worker’s pre-pandemic earnings in addition to what is prescribed by each state. While the wage-replacement is more tailored, Evermore warned that making the necessary calculations for each claimant could overwhelm an already teetering system.

“If you told states that they had to do a percentage replacement — oh, my gosh, that’s a recipe for crashing everything,” she said.

“It’s just not how the system is set up to work.”

 

 

 

 

Fed chief: New surge in cases is beginning to weigh on the economy

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/29/powell-fed-economy/?utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR2CvBwHTLxHdQVT0I2uItlkVA9TMiJQpxdEyT2wucJ-3r1J3isD2U8y6Ic

US Central Bank Chief Says Surge In Coronavirus (COVID-19) Cases ...

The Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates unchanged at close to zero, but the Fed is also extending programs to buy Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities.

The head of the Federal Reserve said Wednesday that rising numbers of coronavirus cases since mid-June are beginning to weigh on the economy, reinforcing that the fate of the recovery depends on containing the pandemic.

“On balance, it looks like the data are pointing to a slowing in the pace of the recovery,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said during a news conference on Wednesday. “I want to stress it’s too early to say both how large that is and how sustained it will be.”

Job gains from May and June came “sooner and stronger” than expected, Powell said. But those encouraging signs were closely followed by a surge in coronavirus cases nationwide. Powell said that at the same time people’s lives depend on containing the public health crisis, it is also important to “deal with the economic ramifications.”

Powell said some measures of consumer spending, based on debit card and credit card use, have moved down since late June. Powell also mentioned recent labor market indicators that are pointing to slower job growth, especially for smaller businesses. Hotel occupancy rates have flattened out, Powell said, while Americans are not going to restaurants, gas stations and beauty salons as much as they had been earlier in the summer.

Powell said the upcoming jobs reports and other surveys will help flesh out the Fed’s economic outlook, cautioning that he did not “want to get ahead of where the data are on this.” But as he has for months, Powell again emphasized that the economy’s recovery depends on the country’s ability to stop the virus from spreading.

“The path of the economy is going to depend, to a very high extent, on the course of the virus and on the measures we take to keep it in check,” Powell said. “The two things are not in conflict. Social distancing measures and a fast reopening of the economy actually go together. They’re not in competition with each other.”

As expected, the Fed’s policymaking board decided to keep interest rates, which are already near zero, unchanged as it concluded two days of policy meetings this week. Markets responded optimistically to the news, with the Dow Jones industrial average ending up 160 points at Wednesday’s close.

The Federal Reserve signaled in its statement on Wednesday that the Fed would continue to use “its full range of tools” to steer the economy out of recession, even as the virus significantly shapes the future of the economy.

“The ongoing public health crisis will weigh heavily on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term,” the Fed’s top panel of policymakers said in a statement at the conclusion of two days of meetings.

After sharp declines, economic activity and employment “have picked up somewhat in recent months,” the Fed said. Economists have been closely watching July indicators, which could help explain whether the recovery from earlier this summer is beginning to fizzle as some states and cities reimpose restrictions on businesses to combat rising coronavirus cases.

“Overall financial conditions have improved in recent months, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses,” the Fed statement read.

To support the flow of credit to households and businesses, the Fed said it would increase its holdings of Treasury securities and agency residential and commercial mortgage-backed securities at least at the current pace over the coming months. The Fed has said its support of the markets should remain in place to help safeguard the broader financial system during the pandemic.

At his news conference, Powell said the Fed was committed to keeping its lending facilities and other emergency measures in place not only during the shutdown and reopening, but also through the “long tail where a large number of people are struggling to get back to work.”

“We’re in this until we’re well through it,” Powell said.

Powell’s news conference comes as Congress clashes over another stimulus bill and an extension for enhanced unemployment benefits. On Tuesday, President Trump brushed off the new $1 trillion Senate GOP coronavirus legislation as “sort of semi-irrelevant.”

Powell has repeatedly said that the Fed cannot heal the economy alone and that more help will be needed from Congress to ease the pain for millions of Americans. On Wednesday, Powell said funding from the Cares Act has been key to keeping people in their homes and jobs. He praised the Paycheck Protection Program, for example, for getting money directly to businesses that couldn’t necessarily have been saved through a Fed lending program.

“Lending is a particular tool, and we’re using it very aggressively, but fiscal policy is essential here,” Powell said. “As I’ve said, more will be needed from all of us, and I see Congress is negotiating now over a new package, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Powell has stopped short of telling lawmakers exactly what they should do, or how urgently they should act, saying it isn’t his role to tell other parts of government how to do their jobs. But on Wednesday, Powell pushed the success of Congress’s earlier programs as reason for lawmakers to act again, said Skanda Amarnath, research director of Employ America, a policy group that advocates for full employment and higher wages.

Amarnath said Powell’s framing could give some cover to Republican lawmakers who are less convinced more help is needed, or who dispute the connection between the virus and the recovery.

“[Powell] is trying to reiterate that you can’t think of this as ‘either or,’ ” Amarnath said, adding that when it comes to tackling the pandemic and the economy, “you’re going to have to tackle one to tackle the other.”

For months, Powell has insisted that the virus will dictate an economic turnaround, which he says can’t happen until Americans feel safe going about their daily routines. Since the Fed’s last meeting in June, rising case counts have forced states to reimpose restrictions on business activity. Minutes from the Fed’s June meeting showed officials were worried the United States could enter a much worse recession later this year if the pandemic is not contained.

At this week’s Fed meeting, Fed leaders were expected to discuss other policy tools, such as forward guidance and asset purchases, without necessarily coming away with any firm conclusions. Economists are also awaiting the release of the Fed’s long-term monetary policy review, which could change the way the Fed approaches its inflation target.

 

 

 

 

Did a third of the economy really vanish in just three months?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/30/did-third-economy-really-vanish-just-three-months/?utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR11oZa1zNZ4rPe-mKLgDKQDwgqCYa_r9DXpQtycSqu0ojgHKGVN8H8ljOs

 

The second quarter GDP report confused many, but any way you slice it, the economy saw its worst quarter in at least 145 years.

The Commerce Department opened today’s announcement of second-quarter economic growth with an eyeball-blistering observation: “Real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020.”

That 32.9 percent represents the loss of a third of the economy. Let that sink in. Now let it wriggle back out again — it is not exactly true. Why? The Commerce Department reports quarterly GDP at an annual rate to allow easy comparisons to other time periods. Remove the annualization, and we see the economy contracted a still-abysmal 9.5 percent.

In other words, 32.9 percent is how much the economy would shrink if the business closures and spending cuts of the second quarter increased at a compounding 9.5 percent for an entire year, after adjusting for seasonality.

Think of what an apocalypse that would be. Annualization assumes the businesses closed this quarter would remain closed and that just as many more would close in the third quarter. And we’d expand the closures again in the fourth quarter and again in the first quarter of next year.

In other words, take the devastation you saw in the past three months and multiply it by four. That is essentially what annualizing does, though compounding means the actual math is a bit more complicated.

The Commerce Department’s affection for annualization does not stop at percentage change. It also reports quarterly GDP totals at an annualized rate — when Commerce says GDP was at $17.2 trillion in the past quarter, it means GDP would be at $17.2 trillion if this quarter’s $4.3 trillion in output continued for a full year.

With that in mind, here is U.S. GDP, adjusted for inflation and reported as quarterly totals, as suggested by reader Nick Estes.

That chart does not crash by a third, obviously. A 32.9 percent drop would mean a loss of about $1.6 trillion from last quarter. In fact, the economy shrank $0.45 trillion in the second quarter, on the heels of a $0.06 trillion (1.3 percent) decrease in the first quarter of 2020.

To see a third of the economy truly vanish, look at the Great Depression. From 1929 to 1933, GDP contracted about 36 percent, according to data collected by economists Nathan Balke and Robert Gordon. That is the actual contraction — no annualization in sight.

Commerce Department data, which start in 1947, show the previous worst quarter on record was a 2.6 percent drop in 1958. That contraction just happened to coincide with the “Asian flu” pandemic, which claimed about a million lives worldwide.

With Balke and Gordon’s expanded data, we can also establish that a drop of 9.5 percent makes this quarter the worst since at least 1875. The next worst were in 1893, when a legendary panic and run on the banks resulted in a long, painful depression, and 1937, when the Great Depression took a turn for the worse. Then, we saw drops of 8.4 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively.

 

 

3 Months Of Hell: U.S. Economy Drops 32.9% In Worst GDP Report Ever

https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/30/896714437/3-months-of-hell-u-s-economys-worst-quarter-ever?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&fbclid=IwAR1L_YW1uYovd5bpjtU6xV7HI_DgGsYPgmdEs3fz0RbOn8XukrKhafRsljE

Economy Shrank At 32.9% Rate In 2nd Quarter

Percent change from the preceding period, seasonally adjusted annual rate

3 Months Of Hell: U.S. Economy Drops 32.9% In Worst GDP Report ...

The coronavirus pandemic triggered the sharpest economic contraction in modern American history, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Gross domestic product — the broadest measure of economic activity — shrank at an annual rate of 32.9% in the second quarter as restaurants and retailers closed their doors in a desperate effort to slow the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 150,000 people in the U.S.

The economic shock in April, May and June was more than three times as sharp as the previous record — 10% in 1958 — and nearly four times the worst quarter during the Great Recession.

“Horrific,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Markit. “We’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

Another 1.43 million people filed for state unemployment last week, an increase of 12,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. It was the second week in a row of increased unemployment filings and shows that the economic picture continues to remain grim.

GDP swings are typically reported at an annual rate — as if they were to continue for a full year — which can be misleading in a volatile period like this. The overall economy in the second quarter was 9.5% smaller than during the same period a year ago.

After a sharp drop in March and April, economic activity began to rebound in May and June, although that recovery remains halting and could be jeopardized by a new surge of infections.

“As soon as the virus started to take off again in key states like Texas, California, Arizona, Florida, it’s fading very rapidly,” Behravesh said.

Restaurant owner Cameron Mitchell likens the pandemic to a hurricane. What appeared to be a business rebound in June turned out to be merely the eye of the storm, and he’s now being buffeted by gale-force winds again.

“Our associates are more scared to work today and guests are more afraid to go out, so sales have dropped,” Mitchell said.

Business at his restaurants in Florida had nearly recovered to pre-pandemic levels in June but has since fallen sharply.

Other industries have enjoyed a more durable recovery, though few are back to where they were in February.

Dentists’ offices are ordinarily one of the more stable parts of the economy, but they closed for all but emergency services during much of the spring. Dental hygienist Alexis Bailey was out of work for 10 weeks before her office in Lansing, Mich., reopened at the end of May.

At first, she was reluctant to go back to work while the virus was still circulating.

“I was terrified,” Bailey said. “I was not happy to be back. But I have a job to do and I like to do it and I want to help people. We talk about how essential we are, so that’s what we’ve had to do.”

Within an hour of returning to work, Bailey said, she began to feel comfortable, particularly with the additional protective gear and other safety precautions her office has adopted.

“I tell my patients all the time I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel safe,” she said.

Nationwide, dental offices added more than a quarter-million jobs in May and another 190,000 in June. And there has been no shortage of patients.

She thought no one would want to come. “But we’re booked,” Bailey said. “People miss getting their teeth cleaned. They want to catch up. Every time they come in, they say, ‘This has been nice to get out of the house and feel safe and talk to somebody.’ ”

Factory production has also begun to rebound, along with construction. But airlines and amusement parks are still struggling.

“It’s very much a sort of two-tiered economy right now,” Behravesh said.

The unemployment rate approached 15% in April, and in June it was still higher — at 11.1% — than during any previous postwar recession.

While the drop in GDP was largely driven by a decline in consumer spending, the economic fallout was cushioned somewhat by an unprecedented level of federal relief.

Wages and salaries fell sharply in April, but that was more than offset by the $1,200 relief payments that the government sent to most adults and by supplemental unemployment benefits of $600 per week.

Those government payments helped prevent an even steeper drop in consumer spending — the lifeblood of the U.S. economy — and allowed struggling families to buy groceries and pay rent.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the money “has been well spent. It has kept people in their homes. It has kept businesses in business. So that’s all a good thing.”

Those extra unemployment benefits are expiring this week, though. With coronavirus infections still threatening the recovery, additional federal support is likely to be necessary.

“Until we get the virus under control, we’re going to need more help,” Behravesh said. “Our view is that we’re not going to get to the pre-pandemic levels of economic activity until some time in 2022.”

Restaurant owner Mitchell says his business lost $700,000 in June alone. He predicts a wave of restaurant bankruptcies unless the federal government provides more relief.

“No one is looking for a handout here,” he said. “We’re looking to survive.”

He’s watching news of vaccine trials closely in hopes that eventually diners will feel comfortable eating out again in large numbers.

“I don’t think it’s the next couple of weeks,” he said. “But I tell our team, ‘Every day that goes by, it’s one day closer to the end of this thing.’ ”

 

 

 

The economy is in deep trouble again. Coronavirus is to blame

https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/23/business/coronavirus-economy-recovery/index.html

The economy is in deep trouble again. Coronavirus is to blame - CNN

Restaurant reservations are waning. The rebound in air travel is leveling off. And foot traffic at stores is dwindling once again. There is mounting evidence that America’s fragile economic recovery is already stalling as the number of coronavirus infections and deaths spike.

Real-time economic indicators bottomed out in May as stay-at-home orders were lifted and many Americans felt safe enough to start visiting shopping centers, restaurants and even airports.
That gave hope, perhaps prematurely, of a rapid V-shaped recovery for the United States from the historic collapse caused by the pandemic.
But there is now a growing sense that the recovery is losing steam as coronavirus infections surge in California, Texas, Florida and other Sun Belt states.
“The premature reopening of the U.S. economy has resulted in an intensification of the pandemic, which is now causing growth in the economy to slow,” Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM International, wrote in a note to clients Tuesday.
The stall of the fragile recovery comes as Congress debates whether the economy needs more stimulus — and if so, how much to provide. The $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits expire this month unless lawmakers take action.
Economists say there is nothing to debate: The recovery is faltering.
“Activity is now clearly contracting in COVID hot spots, including the Sun Belt and the West,” Aneta Markowska, chief economist at Jefferies, wrote in a report on Monday.
That is hardly surprising, given that 22 states have either reversed or paused their reopening due to health concerns.

Recovery hopes overdone?

This doesn’t mean the US economy will keep shrinking in the third quarter. Economists are still betting GDP will turn sharply positive after having collapsed by an estimated 34% during the second quarter. But now they worry that the forecasts for blockbuster growth may be overly optimistic.
For instance, S&P Global Economics warned Wednesday that its estimate for a surge in third quarter GDP at an annualized pace of 22.2% is “at risk of weakening” because of the health crisis.
“Although our base case is for a gradual recovery through next year,” S&P economists wrote, “the [recent] surge in COVID-19 and hospitalizations has raised concerns that a more likely scenario is that the COVID-19 recession has not bottomed out.”
The latest real-time economic indicators suggest those concerns are warranted.
More turbulence for air travel: The resurgence of coronavirus infections is derailing the travel industry’s modest recovery. The number of air passengers processed through TSA security lines fell during the week ended July 20, compared with the prior week, according to Bank of America. This metric is down more than 70% from a year ago.
United (UAL) CEO Scott Kirby told CNBC on Wednesday that the airline doesn’t “expect to get anywhere close to normal until there’s a vaccine that’s been widely distributed to a large portion of the population.”
Restaurant trouble: As the CNN Business Recovery Dashboard clearly shows, restaurant reservations on OpenTable have weakened in recent weeks. During March and April, as the pandemic wreaked havoc, reservations were down nearly 100% from a year ago. That figure rebounded to down “only” 50% in mid-June, but has since rolled over and stood at -65% as of Monday.
Foot traffic to Chipotle (CMG) was down 47% during the first week in June, according to Placer.ai, an analytics platform that uses anonymized location data. Traffic improved to down just 30% by the end of June, but has since “stagnated” through mid-July, Placer.ai said.
Retail slowdown: In April, US retail traffic declined by a staggering 98%, according to Cowen. Traffic steadily improved, with June traffic down 57%, but that rebound has stalled. US retail traffic fell 47% from a year ago during the second week of July, Cowen said, a slight deterioration from the first week in July when traffic was down 45%.
Small business shutdowns: As of Sunday, 24.5% of small businesses in the United States were closed, according to Jefferies. That is worse than late June, when only 19% were closed. Jefferies pointed to “particular weakness in COVID hot spots” and noted that small business employment had dropped to levels unseen since the end of May.
Weaker spending: After plunging by as much as 31% year-over-year in early April, purchases on credit cards issued by Synchrony turned positive in late June. However, Synchrony (SYF) said Tuesday that spending during the first two weeks of July was down 2%.
Unemployment website visits: Web traffic to state unemployment portals “leveled off at still-high levels, suggesting labor market momentum has stalled,” Jefferies said. That jibes with official government statistics in the CNN Business Recovery Dashboard that show unemployment claims have tumbled from their spike this spring but remain elevated. In fact, another 1.4 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week — the first increase in weekly claims since late March.
“The spread of the virus since mid-June has clearly had an adverse effect on economic activity,” economists at Bank of America wrote in a note to clients Wednesday. “It is clear that the path of the economic recovery cannot be disentangled from the path of the virus.”

No vaccine, no recovery?

That’s not to say all real-time indicators are negative right now. For instance, Jefferies said one of the last metrics to bottom out, a US job listing index that the bank created with alternative data platform Thinknum, continued to improve even last week.
Still, the New York Federal Reserve’s weekly economic index, which is composed of metrics on the labor market, consumer behavior and goods production, dropped for the first time since hitting the pandemic low point in late April.
All of this raises stakes in the race to develop a vaccine that is effective against Covid-19.
Vaccine hopes, on top of unprecedented easy money from the Federal Reserve, have helped catapult the stock market. The S&P 500 has spiked 46% since the March 23 low and is now positive for the year.
Real progress is being made on the vaccine front, underscored by a $1.95 billion deal announced Wednesday for Pfizer (PFE) to produce millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses for the US government.
Yet healthcare execs remain more cautious than Wall Street. Seventy-three percent of healthcare industry leaders polled by Lazard estimate that a vaccine won’t be widely available until at least the second half of 2021.
“It is becoming quite clear that absent an accessible and widely distributed vaccine,” RSM’s Brusuelas said, “there will be no complete economic recovery.”

 

 

U.S. passes 4 million coronavirus cases as pace of new infections roughly doubles

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/us-passes-4-million-coronavirus-cases-as-pace-of-new-infections-roughly-doubles/2020/07/23/d0125192-cd02-11ea-b0e3-d55bda07d66a_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR3Ve5MnHiStJnPO_mzkc1c2sHE2EM6QOG-2HochFPBmJe6hnyvcmqEVQ4U

The United States on Thursday passed the grim milestone of 4 million confirmed coronavirus infections, and President Trump announced he was canceling the public celebration of his nomination for a second term, as institutions from schools to airlines to Major League Baseball wrestled with the consequences of a pandemic still far from under control.

The rapid spread of the virus this summer is striking, taking just 15 days to go from 3 million confirmed cases to 4 million. By comparison, the increase from 1 million cases to 2 million spanned 45 days from April 28 to June 11, and the leap to 3 million then took 27 days.

Trump’s cancellation of the in-person portion of the Republican National Convention planned for next month in Jacksonville, Fla., represented a remarkable reversal. He had insisted for months on a made-for-television spectacle that would have packed people close together in a state that is now an epicenter of the resurgent pandemic.

On Thursday, he conceded that was not going to work. “The timing for this event is not right,” Trump said during the latest of somber, solo White House briefings this week. “It’s just not right with what’s been happening.”

Florida reported 173 deaths on Thursday, its highest single-day count of new deaths, and also reported more than 10,200 new coronavirus cases.

In a scathing statement blaming the surge of new cases on Trump’s “failure to care,” presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden said the president “quit on this country and waved the white flag of surrender.”

Meanwhile, nearly every public health metric suggests America is badly losing its fight against the virus.

Positivity rates have reached alarming levels in numerous states, hospitalizations are soaring, and more than 1,100 new coronavirus deaths were reported across the United States on Wednesday, marking the first time since May 29 that the daily count exceeded that number, according to Washington Post tracking.

The rolling seven-day average of infections has doubled in less than a month, reaching more than 66,000 new cases per day Wednesday. The U.S. death toll now exceeds 141,000.

As a result, many businesses appear to be pulling back after their attempts to resume more normal operations proved premature, and an additional 1.4 million American workers filed for unemployment benefits last week. It was the first time since March that new claims rose. Another 980,000 new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims — the benefits offered to self-employed and gig workers — were also filed.

Congress, meanwhile, struggled to confront the crisis. Senate Republicans killed Trump’s payroll tax cut proposal on Thursday, widening an unusual rift with the White House over the cost and contents of the latest national coronavirus relief package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had planned to roll out a $1 trillion GOP bill Thursday morning, but that was canceled amid the intraparty conflicts.

Administration officials then floated a piecemeal approach, involving several different aid bills, but ran into opposition from lawmakers in both parties.

Trump’s briefing Thursday afternoon, his third of the week, reflected an effort to increase popular support for his management of the coronavirus outbreak, which even many of his allies have criticized. About 2 out of 3 Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, a new poll found.

Trump dismissed or played down the risk of the virus for months after it had begun spreading in the United States and has been a self-described cheerleader for rapid reopening of businesses and schools shuttered to help slow its spread.

The survey of 1,057 adults in the United States, conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, also showed that 3 out of 4 Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support mandatory face coverings when people are outside their own homes.

Democrats overwhelmingly favor mask mandates, at 89 percent. The majority of Republicans — 59 percent — also support them.

Ninety-five percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans say they wear face coverings when leaving home. Overall, more Americans — 86 percent — are wearing masks compared with in May, when 73 percent were doing so.

Trump resisted wearing a mask in public until earlier this month, despite calls to set a good example from the top. He now calls it patriotic to wear a mask, though he still does not wear one consistently and says people should decide for themselves. Trump carries a black-cloth version in his pocket, which he says is sufficient for those instances when he is close to people who have not been screened for the virus.

Trump’s shift may reflect a growing consensus in favor of masks, although it is not clear that opposition to them has ebbed among some of the president’s strongest political supporters.

The business community is struggling, too. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines posted big quarterly losses between April and July in their earnings reports released Thursday, projecting that travel demand will not rebound anytime soon.

In American’s second quarter, revenue dropped more than 86 percent, to $1.6 billion, from nearly $12 billion a year ago, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The company posted a net loss of nearly $2.1 billion, attributing it to stay-at-home orders, border closures and travel restrictions.

“As a result, we have experienced an unprecedented decline in the demand for air travel, which has resulted in a material deterioration in our revenues,” the company said in the earnings report. “While the length and severity of the reduction in demand due to Covid-19 is uncertain, we expect our results of operations for the remainder of 2020 to be severely impacted.”

Southwest posted revenue of $1 billion in its second quarter, an almost 83 percent dip compared with a year ago. The company also posted a net loss of $915 million.

Trump also took a small step back from his insistence that schools should open on time this fall, conceding instead that some schools might need to delay in-person learning. Many school districts have already announced that decision.

Trump has been critical of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying it made it too tough for schools to reopen, and promised new guidelines would be issued. On Thursday, the CDC released several documents emphasizing the benefits of in-person school, in line with Trump’s messaging. Some of the guidance was written by White House officials rather than experts at the CDC, people familiar with the process said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal decision-making.

The new guidelines for school administrators mention precautions outlined in previous documents, but they appear to drop specific reference to keeping students six feet apart — something many schools find almost impossible to do if they are fully reopened. This document also suggests that schools consider closing only if there is “substantial, uncontrolled transmission” of the virus, and not necessarily even then.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) echoed Trump in making a case for students to return to classrooms, despite the state’s teachers union suing over an order forcing schools to fully reopen. Meanwhile, a new poll showed that most parents would prefer to delay the start of in-person school.

During an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” DeSantis said that schoolchildren are “by far at the least risk for coronavirus, thankfully.”

“We also know they play the smallest role by far in transmission of the virus, and yet they’ve really been asked to shoulder the brunt of our control measures,” said DeSantis, a close Trump ally who had volunteered his state for the Republican convention next month.

DeSantis said that the “evidence-based decision” is for all parents to have the option of in-class instruction for their children if they choose. He said those who are not comfortable with sending their children back to school could continue distance learning.

The role children play in spreading the virus is still being studied, with experts saying that results are not definitive. A South Korean study found that children over the age of 10 were as likely to transmit the virus as adults, while those under 10 were less likely to spread it.

Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Wednesday on Fox News that the United States is launching a study of its own, adding that the data “really needs to be confirmed here.”

Among the most visible American institutions searching for a path forward is the sports industry. Major League Baseball began a pandemic-shortened season on Thursday, playing in empty stadiums amid questions about whether the sport can make it through October without having to abort. It is as much a science experiment as a championship pursuit.

Players are prohibited from spitting or high-fiving. Foul balls that wind up in the stands will remain there.

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, threw out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals home opener against the New York Yankees. Nationals star outfielder Juan Soto tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday and missed the game.

Meanwhile, Japan marked a year’s delay of the Olympic Games on Thursday. Tokyo was to host the 2020 Summer Olympics starting Friday. A 15-minute ceremony in Tokyo’s newly built $1.4 billion Olympic Stadium started the countdown to the delayed games, now set to begin on July 23, 2021. The city also marked a new daily record in reported cases on Thursday, with 366.

poll this week by Japan’s Kyodo News Agency found that fewer than 1 in 4 people in Japan even want to host the games anymore. One-third of respondents said the games should be canceled, while 36 percent expressed interest in postponing them for more than a year.

 

 

 

Coronavirus’s painful side effect is deep budget cuts for state and local government services

https://theconversation.com/coronaviruss-painful-side-effect-is-deep-budget-cuts-for-state-and-local-government-services-141105

Coronavirus's painful side effect is deep budget cuts for state ...

Nationwide, state and local government leaders are warning of major budget cuts as a result of the pandemic. One state – New York – even referred to the magnitude of its cuts as having “no precedent in modern times.”

Declining revenue combined with unexpected expenditures and requirements to balance budgets means state and local governments need to cut spending and possibly raise taxes or dip into reserve funds to cover the hundreds of billions of dollars lost by state and local government over the next two to three years because of the pandemic.

Without more federal aid or access to other sources of money (like reserve funds or borrowing), government officials have made it clear: Budget cuts will be happening in the coming years.

And while specifics are not yet available in all cases, those cuts have already included reducing the number of state and local jobs – from firefighters to garbage collectors to librarians – and slashing spending for education, social services and roads and bridges.

In some states, agencies have been directed to cut their budget as much as 15% or 20% – a tough challenge as most states prepared budgets for a new fiscal year that began July 1.

As a scholar of public administration who researches how governments spend money, here are the ways state and local governments have reduced spending to close the budget gap.

Cutting jobs

State and local governments laid off or furloughed 1.5 million workers in April and May.

They are also reducing spending on employees. According to surveys, government workers are feeling personal financial strain as many state and local governments have cut merit raises and regular salary increases, frozen hiring, reduced salaries and cut seasonal employees.

Washington state, for example, cut both merit raises and instituted furloughs.

survey from the National League of Cities shows 32% of cities will have to furlough or lay off employees and 41% have hiring freezes in place or planned as a result of the pandemic.

Employment reductions have met some resistance. In Nevada, for example, a state worker union filed a complaint against the governor to the state’s labor relations board for violating a collective bargaining statute by not negotiating on furloughs and salary freezes.

Most of the employee cuts have been made in education. Teachers, classroom aids, administrators, staff, maintenance crews, bus drivers and other school employees have seen salary cuts and layoffs.

The job loss has hurt public employees beyond education, too: librarians, garbage collectors, counselors, social workers, police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, health aides, park rangers, maintenance crews, administrative assistants and others have been affected.

Residents also face the consequences of these cuts: They can’t get ahold of staff in the city’s water and sewer departments to talk about their bill; they can’t use the internet at the library to look for jobs; their children can’t get needed services in school.

Most of these cuts have been labeled temporary, but with the extensions to stay-at-home orders and a mostly closed economy, it will be some time before these employees are back to work.

Suspending road, bridges, building and water system projects

As another way to reduce costs quickly, a National League of Cities survey shows 65% of the municipalities surveyed are stopping temporarily, or completely, capital expenditure and infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, buildings, water systems or parking garages.

In New York City, there is a US$2.3 billion proposed cut to the capital budget, a fund that supports large, multiyear investments from sidewalk and road maintenance, school buildings, senior centers, fire trucks, sewers, playgrounds, to park upkeep. There are potentially serious consequences for residents. For example, New York housing advocates are concerned that these cuts will hurt plans for 21,000 affordable homes.

Suspending these big money projects will save the government money in the short term. But it will potentially harm the struggling economy, since both public and private sectors benefit from better roads, bridges, schools and water systems and the jobs these projects create.

Delaying maintenance also has consequences for the deteriorating infrastructure in the U.S. The costs of unaddressed repairs could increase future costs. It can cost more to replace a crumbling building than it does to fix one in better repair.

Cities and towns hit

In many states, the new budgets severely cut their aid to local governments, which will lead to large local cuts in education – both K-12 and higher education – as well as social programs, transportation, health care and other areas.

New York state’s budget proposes that part of its fiscal year 2021 budget shortfall will be balanced by $8.2 billion in reductions in aid to localities. This is the state where the cuts were referred to in the budget as “not seen in modern times.” This money is normally spent on many important services that residents need everyday –mass transit, adult and elderly care, mental health support, substance abuse programs, school programs like special education, children’s health insurance and more. Lacking any of these support services can be devastating to a person, especially in this difficult time.

Fewer workers, less money

As teachers and administrators figure out how to teach both online and in person, they and their schools will need more money – not less – to meet students’ needs.

Libraries, which provide services to many communities, from free computer use to after-school programs for children, will have to cut back. They may have fewer workers, be open for fewer hours and not offer as many programs to the public.

Parks may not be maintained, broken playground equipment may stay that way, and workers may not repave paths and mow lawns. Completely separate from activists’ calls to shift police funding to other priorities, police departments’ budgets may be slashed just for lack of cash to pay the officers. Similar cuts to firefighters and ambulance workers may mean poorly equipped responders take longer to arrive on a scene and have less training to deal with the emergency.

To keep with developing public safety standards, more maintenance staff and materials will be needed to clean and sanitize schools, courtrooms, auditoriums, correctional facilitiesmetro stations, buses and other public spaces. Strained budgets and employees will make it harder to complete these new essential tasks throughout the day.

To avoid deeper cuts, state and local government officials are trying a host of strategies including borrowing money, using rainy day funds, increasing revenue by raising tax rates or creating new taxes or fees, ending tax exemptions and using federal aid as legally allowed.

Colorado was able to hold its budget to only a 3% reduction, relying largely on one-time emergency reserve funds. Delaware managed to maintain its budget and avoided layoffs largely through using money set aside in a reserve account.

Nobody knows how long the pandemic, or its economic effects, will last.

In the worst-case scenario, budget officials are prepared to make steeper cuts in the coming months if more assistance does not come from the federal government or the economy does not recover quickly enough to restore the flow of money that governments need to operate.

 

 

 

Former Fed Chairs Bernanke and Yellen testified on COVID-19 and response to economic crisis

Former Fed Chairs Bernanke and Yellen testified on COVID-19 and response to economic crisis

Former Fed Chairs Bernanke and Yellen testified on COVID-19 and ...

In many respects this recession is unique. Most recessions result from developments inside the economy, but an external shock—the public health crisis—caused this one. To avoid getting sick, people have curtailed working, shopping, and attending school. Whatever the cause, the coronavirus recession, like all recessions, is imposing heavy costs. Many workers have lost jobs and income, and many business owners’ financial survival is at risk. The economy’s extraordinarily rapid decline earlier this year—as well as the sharp but incomplete rebound following the first steps toward reopening—reflect this recession’s unusual source. In addition, the sectors suffering most differ from past recessions. The heaviest blows have fallen on service industries that involve close personal contact (including retail trade, leisure and hospitality, and transportation) rather than, as is more typical, on the housing, capital investment, and durable goods sectors. Lower-paid workers, as well as women and minorities, are over-represented in the most-affected sectors, and thus have borne a disproportionate share of the job and income losses. And, the virus has affected almost every country, with potentially devastating consequences for trade and international investment.

Because this recession is unprecedented in so many ways, forecasting the recovery is difficult. The course of the pandemic itself is by far the most important factor. As long as people fear catching a potentially deadly illness from other people, they will be cautious about resuming normal activities, even after state and local governments lift lockdowns. Thus, controlling the spread of the virus must be the first priority for restoring more-normal levels of economic activity—but, more importantly, for saving possibly tens of thousands of lives. Members of Congress, local leaders, and other policymakers need to do all they can to support testing and contact tracing, medical research, and sufficient hospital capacity, and they must work to ensure that businesses, schools, and public transportation have what they need to operate safely. Both authors of this testimony are serving on state re-opening commissions, which has provided us insight into the substantial challenges to safe re-opening.

If the pandemic comes under better control, economic recovery should follow. However, the pace of the recovery could be slow and uneven, for several reasons. First, in the face of ongoing uncertainty, households and businesses may remain cautious for a time. They may increase saving and reduce spending, hiring, and capital investment. The longer the recession lasts, the greater the damage it will inflict on household and business balance sheets and the longer it will take to repair the damage. Second, the depth of the recession may leave scars—business closures and the deterioration of unemployed workers’ skills—that will affect growth for several years. Third, depending on the course of the virus, some restructuring of the economy may be needed. For example, people and resources will need to be redeployed out of the sectors most damaged by the pandemic, and business operations will need to be reorganized to protect workers and customers. All of that will take time and money. Fiscal and monetary policies must aim to speed the recovery and minimize the recession’s lasting effects.

ACTIONS BY THE FEDERAL RESERVE

The Federal Reserve has moved swiftly and forcefully in this crisis. It eased monetary policy in March by lowering the federal funds rate, the overnight interest rate on loans between banks, nearly to zero and indicating that it plans to keep rates low for several years. Low interest rates probably had limited economic benefits in the spring. Lockdowns prevented people from spending or working more. However, we expect low rates will spur spending in sectors like housing as the economy reopens. And the Fed may well do more in coming months as re-opening proceeds and as the outlook for inflation, jobs, and growth becomes somewhat clearer. In particular, to maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) likely will provide forward guidance about the economic conditions it would need to see before it considers raising its overnight target rate.  And it likely will clarify its plans for further securities purchases (quantitative easing). It is possible, though not certain, that the FOMC will also implement yield-curve control by targeting medium-term interest rates. It could, for example, target two-year rates by announcing its willingness to buy two-year Treasury notes at a fixed yield. The completion of the Fed’s internal review of its tools and framework in coming months will help guide these decisions.

The Fed also has been active beyond monetary policy.

First, the Fed has served as market maker of last resort by acting to stabilize critical financial markets when capital or other regulatory constraints have interfered with normal market-making or arbitrage. The Fed has served this role for repurchase agreements (repos) since September, when intermittent liquidity shortages led to spikes in repo rates. Banks did not provide liquidity to offset these spikes, as they normally would, citing balance sheet limits and other constraints. Because repo markets are critical to the functioning of broader financial and credit markets, as well as for the transmission of monetary policy, the Fed has restored more-normal function in repo markets by conducting large-scale repo operations and by steadily increasing the quantity of reserves in the banking system.

An even larger shock occurred in March, when uncertainty about the pandemic led hedge funds and others to scramble to raise cash by selling longer-term securities. The upsurge in the supply of longer-term securities, including Treasuries, was more than dealers and other market-makers could handle. Key financial markets, including for Treasury securities, experienced substantial volatility. To stabilize these markets, which like the repo market play a critical role in our financial system, the Fed purchased large quantities of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities, again serving as market maker of last resort. It also set up a new repo facility to allow foreign official institutions to borrow dollars, using their Treasury reserves as collateral, thus avoiding the need to sell those Treasuries. Although risk and liquidity premiums in these key markets have returned closer to normal, at some point the Fed and the Treasury will need to review why the market-making facilities in place before the pandemic hit did not work more efficiently.

Second, the Fed has served as lender of last resort to the financial system, a classic function of central banks. Banks and other financial intermediaries typically borrow short and lend long—that is, they rely heavily on short-term funding to finance long-term loans and investments. If they lose their short-term funding—because their funders lose confidence or for other reasons—they can be forced to sell their assets in fire sales, restrict credit to customers, and, in extreme cases, become insolvent. Central banks can short-circuit that dangerous dynamic by lending to financial institutions against good collateral, replacing the lost liquidity. In the 2007-2009 crisis, which centered on the financial system and included a global financial panic, the Fed as lender of last resort took many actions to provide liquidity to financial institutions, with the goal of stabilizing the system and preserving the flow of credit to the economy.

Fortunately, the financial system is in much better shape today than in was during the financial crisis. Banks in particular are strong, with much higher levels of capital and liquidity. The Fed nevertheless has once again taken steps to ensure that the financial system has sufficient liquidity. Largely replicating our playbook from the crisis era, the Fed has eased terms on the discount window (which provides short-term loans to banks); re-established the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (which lends to broker-dealers); and established a facility that lends indirectly to money market mutual funds, ensuring that the funds can meet depositor withdrawals. In a novel step, the Fed also created a facility that lends to banks, without recourse, against Payroll Protection Program loans, ensuring that banks have sufficient funds to make those loans.

Under the heading of lender of last resort to the financial system, establishing currency swap lines with fourteen foreign central banks was one of the most important actions the Fed took in the 2007-2009 crisis. The Fed has revived this program. Currency swap lines allow foreign central banks (who assume all the credit risk) to lend dollars to banks in their jurisdictions. The broad availability of dollar liquidity is essential because most global banks do substantial borrowing and lending in dollars, including lending within the United States. The swap lines sustain the flow of dollar credit and reduce volatility in dollar-based markets, to the benefit of the U.S. economy.

Third, the Federal Reserve, with the support of the Congress and the Treasury, has also served during the current crisis as a lender of last resort to the non-financial sector, backstopping key credit markets facing the prospect of severe disruption from the pandemic. To take on this role, the Fed invoked its emergency lending powers under Section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act. Since those powers require that the Fed’s lending be well secured, it has had to rely on funds appropriated by the Congress and allocated by the Treasury to cover possible losses. Using these authorities, the Fed revived financial crisis-era facilities to stabilize commercial paper and asset-backed securities markets. Going beyond the financial crisis playbook, the Fed has also added new facilities to lend to corporations and state and local governments and to buy outstanding corporate bonds.

These programs have not extended much credit, so far, but that does not mean they have not succeeded. By establishing the programs, the Fed gave private investors the confidence to re-engage by reassuring them that the government would not allow these critical markets to become dysfunctional. Indeed, the corporate and municipal bond markets largely stabilized after the announcements, before any loans were made. Of course, if these markets seize up again, the Fed’s programs can extend credit.

The Fed also established the Main Street Lending Program to lend (through banks) to medium-sized companies. It is too soon, however, to judge its performance. This program is very different from anything the Fed has attempted before and poses difficult technical challenges. Although the Fed took many public comments while setting up the program, and made substantial changes, questions remain about how many banks and borrowers will participate. The Fed and Treasury may have to further ease terms for borrowers and increase incentives for banks for this program to have the desired effect. Or, the Fed and Treasury could add a new facility, along the lines of funding-for-lending programs run by the Bank of England and the European Central Bank, that simply subsidize banks for making additional loans to qualifying borrowers (for example, businesses below a certain size). That approach leaves the underwriting decision completely with the banks, while the size of the subsidy can be adjusted as needed to achieve the desired level of lending.

Finally, the Fed has also taken actions as a bank regulator—for example, encouraging banks to work with borrowers hobbled by the pandemic. It decided recently, based on stress test results, to bar stock buybacks by banks and to limit—but not eliminate—their dividends.  Based on our experience in the global financial crisis, we think the Fed may find it needs to go further. Although banks are currently strong, it is possible the pandemic will so damage the economy that credit losses mount rapidly. For a successful recovery, the banking system must remain strong and able to lend.

Is there more the Fed could do? As we noted, the Fed likely will provide more clarity about its monetary policy plans, and it may need to adjust the terms or borrower eligibility requirements of its various lending facilities. Broadly speaking, though, the Fed’s response has been forceful, forward-looking, and comprehensive. But, as Chair Powell often notes, the Fed’s authorities allow it to lend, not spend. Some households and firms will need subsidies or grants, rather than loans, and spending is, of course, the province of the Congress.

WHAT FISCAL POLICY MIGHT DO

The fiscal response to the pandemic has thus far been quite effective. Enhanced unemployment insurance and the Paycheck Protection Program have helped unemployed workers and their families, together with many businesses, survive the spring shutdowns. The fiscal support for the Fed’s lending programs likely will help preserve credit availability, possibly with only a portion of the allocated funds being spent.

However, some programs authorized by the Congress are ending, and new actions are necessary. Our recommendations for further fiscal action are:

First, Congress should develop a comprehensive plan to support medical research; increase testing, contact tracing and hospital capacity; make available critical supplies; and support state and local efforts to safely open businesses, schools, and public transportation.

Nothing is more important for restoring economic growth than improving public health. Investments in this area are likely to pay off many times over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle Over State Bailouts

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/06/01/coronavirus-state-bailout-budget-jobs-economy-impact-287704

Blue State Bailout? Red State Residents Received Largest Stimulus ...

Why Politics Keeps Tanking a Bailout Idea That Works.

Nobody in Congress likes to give other politicians money. But the track record shows that writing checks directly to states could keep the recession from becoming way worse.

The last time the American economy tanked and Washington debated how to revive it, White House economists pushed one option that had never been tried in a big way: Send truckloads of federal dollars to the states.

When President Barack Obama took office in January 2009 during the throes of the Great Recession, tax revenues were collapsing and state budgets were hemorrhaging. The Obama team was terrified that without a massive infusion of cash from Congress, governors would tip the recession into a full-blown depression by laying off employees and cutting needed services. So the president proposed an unprecedented $200 billion in direct aid to states, a desperate effort to stop the bleeding that amounted to one-fourth of his entire stimulus request.

But the politics were dismal. Republican leaders had already decided to oppose any Obama stimulus. And even Washington Democrats who supported their new leader’s stimulus weren’t excited to help Republican governors balance their budgets. Most politicians enjoy spending money more than they enjoy giving money to other politicians to spend. And since state fiscal relief was a relatively new concept, the Obama team’s belief that it would provide powerful economic stimulus was more hunch-based than evidence-based.

Ultimately, the Democratic Congress approved $140 billion in state aid—only two-thirds of Obama’s original ask, but far more than any previous stimulus.

And it worked. At least a dozen post-recession studies found state fiscal aid gave a significant boost to the economy—and that more state aid would have produced a stronger recovery. The Obama team’s hunch that helping states would help the nation turned out to be correct.

But evidence isn’t everything in Washington. Now that Congress is once again debating stimulus for a crushed economy—and governors are once again confronted with gigantic budget shortfalls—a partisan war is breaking out over state aid. Memories of 2009 have faded, and the politics have scrambled under a Republican presidential administration.

Democratic leaders have made state aid a top priority now that Donald Trump is in the White House, securing $150 billion for state, local and tribal governments in the CARES Act that Congress passed in March, and proposing an astonishing $915 billion in the HEROES Act that the House passed in May. Republican leaders accepted the fiscal relief in the March bill, but they kept it out of the last round of stimulus that Congress enacted in April, and they have declared the HEROES Act dead on arrival. Though they’re no longer denouncing stimulus as socialism, as they did in the Obama era, they’ve begun attacking state aid as a “blue-state bailout.”

Polls show that most voters want Washington to help states avoid layoffs of teachers, police officers and public health workers, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Fox News personalities, and other influential Republicans are trying to reframe state aid as Big Government Democratic welfare spending. Trump doesn’t want to run for reelection during a depression, and he initially suggested he supported state aid, but in recent weeks he has complained that it would just reward Democratic mismanagement.

“There wasn’t a lot of evidence that state aid would be good stimulus in 2009, but now there’s a lot of data, and it all adds up to juice for the economy,” Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi says. “It’s baffling that this is getting caught up in politics. If states don’t get the support they need soon, they’ll eliminate millions of jobs and cut spending at the worst possible time.”

The coronavirus is ravaging state budgets even faster than the Great Recession did, drying up revenue from sales taxes and income taxes while ratcheting up demand for health and unemployment benefits. But as Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney pointed out earlier this month: “Blue states aren’t the only ones who are getting screwed.” Yes, California faces a $54 billion budget shortfall, and virus-ravaged blue states like New York and New Jersey are also confronting tides of red ink. But the Republican governors of Texas, Georgia and Ohio have also directed state agencies to prepare draconian spending cuts to close massive budget gaps.

Fiscal experts say the new Republican talking point that irresponsible states brought these problems on themselves with unbalanced budgets and out-of-control spending has little basis in reality. Unlike the federal government, which was running a trillion-dollar deficit even before the pandemic, every state except Vermont is required by law to balance its budget every year. State finances were unusually healthy before the crisis hit; overall, they had reserved 7.6 percent of their budgets in rainy day funds, up from 5 percent before the Great Recession.

But now, governors of both parties are now pivoting to austerity, which means more public employees applying for unemployment benefits, fewer state and local services in a time of need, and fewer dollars circulating in the economy as it begins to reopen.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has approved a plan to buy up to $500 billion worth of state and local government bonds to help ease their money problems, recently suggested that direct federal aid to states also “deserves a careful look,” which in Fed-speak qualifies as a desperate plea for congressional action.

Nevertheless, some Republicans who traditionally pushed to devolve power from the federal government to the states are now dismissing state aid as a bloated reward for liberal profligacy. Some fiscal conservatives have merely suggested that the nearly trillion-dollar pass-through to states, cities and tribes in the House HEROES bill is too generous given the uncertainties about the downturn’s trajectory. McConnell actually proposed that states in need should just declare bankruptcy, which is not even a legal option. Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wrote a New York Times op-ed titled “Don’t Bail Out the States.” Sean Hannity told his Fox viewers that more fiscal relief would be a tax on “responsible residents of red states,” while Florida Senator (and former Governor) Rick Scott said it would “bail out liberal politicians in states like New York for their unwillingness to make tough and responsible choices.”

It was not so long ago that governors like Walker and Scott were burnishing their own reputations for fiscal responsibility with federal stimulus dollars. Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a bold experiment in using federal dollars to backstop states in an economic emergency, and its legacy hangs over the debate over today’s emergency.

By the time Obama won the 2008 election, the U.S. economy had already begun to collapse, and his aides had already given him a stimulus memo proposing a $25 billion “state growth fund.” The goal was anti-anti-stimulus: They wanted to prevent state spending cuts and tax hikes that would undo all the stimulus benefits of federal spending increases and tax cuts. The memo warned that states faced at least $100 billion in budget shortfalls, and that “state spending cuts will add to fiscal drag.” Cash-strapped states would also cut funding to local governments, accelerating the doom loop of public-sector layoffs and service reductions, pulling money out of the economy when government ought to be pouring money in.

The memo also warned that the fund might be caricatured as a bailout for irresponsible states and might run counter to the self-interest of politicians who enjoy dispensing largesse: “Congress may resist spending money that governors get credit for spending.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California wasn’t keen on creating a slush fund for her state’s Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina was even more suspicious of his GOP governor, Mark Sanford, an outspoken opponent of all stimulus and most aid to the poor.

After President-elect Obama addressed a National Governors Association event in Philadelphia, Sanford and other conservative Republicans publicly declared that they didn’t want his handouts—and many congressional Democrats were inclined to grant their wish. Even Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was worried about the politics of writing checks to governors who might run against Obama in 2012 on fiscal responsibility platforms.

There were plenty of studies suggesting that unemployment benefits and other aid to recession victims was good economic stimulus, because families in need tend to spend money once they get it, but there wasn’t much available research about aid to states. Congress had approved $20 billion in additional Medicaid payments to states in a 2003 stimulus package, but that aid had arrived much too late to make a measurable difference in the much milder 2001 recession.

Still, Obama’s economists speculated that state aid would have “reasonably large macroeconomic bang for the buck.” And the holes in state budgets were expanding at a scary pace, doubling in the first week after Obama’s election, increasing more than fivefold by Inauguration Day; Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities remembers giving the Obama team frequent updates on state budget outlooks that seemed to deteriorate by the hour.

Obama ended up requesting $200 billion in state fiscal relief in the Recovery Act, eight times his team’s suggestion from November, 10 times more than Congress had authorized in 2003. Emanuel insisted on structuring the aid through increases in existing federal support for schools and Medicaid, rather than just sending states money, so it could be framed as saving the jobs of teachers and nurses. (One otherwise prescient memo by Obama economic aide Jason Furman suggested the unwieldy title of “Tax Increase and Teacher & Cop Layoff Prevention Fund.”) Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the entire stimulus, so Democrats dictated the contents, and they grudgingly agreed to most of their new president’s request for state bailouts.

“State aid was the part of the stimulus where Obama met the most resistance from Democrats,” Greenstein says. “It had such a huge price tag, and nobody loved it. But we can see how desperately it was needed.”

The Obama White House initially estimated that each dollar sent to states would generate $1.10 in economic activity, compared with $1.50 for aid to vulnerable families or infrastructure projects that had been considered the gold standard for emergency stimulus. But later work by Berkeley economist Gabriel Chodorow-Reich and others concluded the actual multiplier effect of the Medicaid assistance in the Recovery Act was as high as $2.00. In addition to preventing cuts in medical care for the poor, it saved or created about one job for every $25,000 of federal spending—and the help arrived much faster than even the most “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects, landing in state capitals just a week after the stimulus passed.

“There were at least a dozen papers written on the state aid, and the evidence is crystal clear that it helped,” says Furman, who is now an economics professor at Harvard. “Unfortunately, it was incredibly hard to get Congress to do more of it, and that hurt.”

After all the bluster about turning down Obama’s money, the only Republican governor who even tried to reject a large chunk of the federal stimulus was Sanford, who was overruled by his fellow Republicans in the South Carolina Legislature. Sarah Palin of Alaska did turn down some energy dollars, while Walker and Scott sent back aid for high-speed rail projects approved by their Democratic predecessors, but otherwise the governors all used the cash to help close their budget gaps. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana appeared at the ribbon-cutting for one Recovery Act project wielding a giant check with his own name on it. Rick Perry of Texas used stimulus dollars to renovate his governor’s mansion—which, in fairness, had been firebombed.

Nevertheless, the Recovery Act covered only about 25 percent of the state budget shortfalls, and Republican senators blocked or shrank Obama’s repeated efforts to send more money to states, forcing governors of both parties to impose austerity programs that slashed about 750,000 state and local government jobs. In 2010, 24 states laid off public employees, 35 cut funding for K-12 education, 37 cut prison spending, and 37 cut money for higher education, one reason for the sharp increases in student loan debt since then. In a recent academic review of fiscal stimulus during the Great Recession, Furman estimated that if state and local governments had merely followed their pattern in previous recessions, spending more to counteract the slowdown in the private sector, GDP growth would have been 0.5 percent higher every year from 2009 through 2013.

The Recovery Act helped turn GDP from negative to positive within four months of its passage, launching the longest period of uninterrupted job growth in U.S. history. But there’s a broad consensus among economists that austerity in the form of layoffs and reduced services at the state and local level worked against the stimulus spending at the federal level, weakening the recovery and making life harder for millions of families.

“The states would’ve made much bigger cuts without the Recovery Act, but they did make big cuts,” says Brian Sigritz, director of fiscal studies at the National Association of State Budget Officers. “We’re seeing similar reactions now, except the situation is even worse.”

It took a decade for state budgets to recover completely from the financial crisis. 2019 was the first year since the Great Recession that they grew faster than their historic average, and the first year in recent memory that no state had to make midyear cuts to get into balance. Rainy-day funds reached an all-time high.

And then the pandemic arrived.

The government sector shed nearly a million jobs in April alone, which is more jobs than it lost during the entire Great Recession. The fiscal carnage has not been limited to states like New York and New Jersey at the epicenter of the pandemic; oil-dependent states like Texas and tourism-dependent states like Florida have also seen revenues plummet. The bipartisan National Governors Association has asked Congress for $500 billion in state stabilization funds, warning that otherwise governors will be forced to make “drastic cuts to the programs we depend on to provide economic security, educational opportunities and public safety.”

So far, Congress has passed four coronavirus bills providing about $3.6 trillion in relief, including $200 billion in direct aid to state, local and tribal governments for Medicaid and other pandemic-related costs. Republican Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts says the aid has come in handy in fighting the virus—not only for providing health care and buying masks but for helping communities install plexiglass in consumer-facing offices and pay overtime to essential workers. Massachusetts had more than 10 percent of its expected tax revenues in its rainy-day fund before the crisis, but its revenues have dried up, putting tremendous pressure on the state as well as its 351 local governments.

“You don’t want states and locals to constrict when the rest of the economy is trying to take off,” Baker said. “So far, we’ve gotten close to what we need, but the question is what happens now, because no one knows what the world is going to look like in a few months.”

In the initial coronavirus bills, Democrats pushed for state aid, and Republicans relented. But in the most recent stimulus that Congress enacted, the $733 billion April package focused on small-business lending, Democrats pushed for state aid and Republicans refused. McConnell has said he’s open to another stimulus package, but he has ridiculed the $3 trillion Democratic HEROES Act as wildly excessive, and rejected its huge proposal for state relief as a bailout for irresponsible blue states with troubled pension funds. Sean Hannity expanded the critique, warning Fox viewers that they were being set up to help Democratic states pay off their “unfunded pensions, sanctuary state policies, massive entitlements, reckless spending on Green New Deal nonsense, and hundreds of millions of dollars of waste.”

In fact, the state with the most underfunded pension plan is McConnell’s Kentucky, which has just a third of the assets it needs to cover its obligations, even though it had unified Republican rule until a Democrat rode the pension crisis to the governor’s office last fall. In general, red states tend to be more dependent on federal largesse than blue states, which tend to pay more taxes to the federal government; an analysis by WalletHub found that 13 of the 15 most dependent states voted for Trump in 2016, with Kentucky ranking third.

Trump initially suggested state aid was “certainly the next thing we’re going to be discussing,” before embracing McConnell’s message that state bailouts would unfairly reward incompetent Democrats in states like California. But California’s finances were also in solid shape before the pandemic, with a $5 billion surplus announced earlier this year in addition to a record $17 billion socked away in its rainy-day fund. Some of the partisan arguments against state aid have been flagrantly hostile to economic evidence; Walker’s op-ed actually blamed the state budget shortfalls after the Great Recession on “the disappearance of federal stimulus funds,” rather than the recession itself, as if the stimulus funds somehow created the holes by failing to continue to plug them.

But plenty of Republican politicians support state aid, especially in states that need it the most. The GOP chairmen of Georgia’s appropriations committees recently asked their congressional delegation to support relief “to close the unprecedented gap in dollars required to maintain a conservative and lean government framework of services.” Some Republicans believe McConnell’s opposition to state fiscal relief is just a negotiating ploy, so he can claim he’s making a concession when it gets included in the next stimulus bill.

“Some aid to states is inevitable and necessary,” says Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers. “I suspect McConnell just wants to set a marker, and make sure aid to states doesn’t become aid to pension funds and public employee union coffers.”

That said, it’s not just Republican partisans who are skeptical of the Democratic push for nearly a trillion dollars in state and local aid. The current projections of state budget gaps range as high as $650 billion over the next two years, but some deficit hawks question whether it’s necessary to fill all of them before it’s clear how long the economic pain will last, and before the Fed has even begun its government bond-buying program. Maya MacGuineas, president of the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, was already disgusted by the trillion-dollar deficits that Washington ran up before the pandemic, and while she says it makes sense to add to those deficits to prevent states from making the crisis worse with radical budget cuts, she doesn’t think federal taxpayers need to cater to every state-level request.

“We have a little time to catch our breath now, so we should make sure that we’re only getting states what they need,” MacGuineas says. “It’s not a moment to be padding the asks.”

Tom Lee, a Republican state senator and former Senate president, says it’s impossible to know how much help states will need without knowing how quickly the economy will reopen, whether there will be a second wave of infections, when Americans will return to their old travel habits, and at what point there will be treatment or a vaccine for the virus. More than three-quarters of Florida’s general revenue comes from sales taxes, so a lot depends on when Floridians start buying things again, and how much they’re willing to buy. Lee says it’s reasonable to expect Washington to help in an emergency, since the national government can print money and Florida can’t, but that the federal money store can’t be open indefinitely, since Florida’s finances were in much better shape than Washington’s before the emergency.

“No question, we need help, but we can’t expect the feds to make us whole,” Lee says. “We’re going to have to tighten our belts, too.”

That’s exactly what Keynesian economic stimulus is supposed to avoid: the contraction of public-sector spending at a time when private-sector spending has already shriveled. A recent poll by the liberal group Data for Progress found that 78 percent of Americans supported $1 trillion in federal aid to states so they can “avoid making deep cuts to government programs and services.”

But Obama White House veterans say they learned two related lessons from their experience with state fiscal relief: It’s better to get too much than not enough, and it’s unwise to assume you can get more later. Stimulus fatigue was real in 2009, and it seems to be returning to Washington. Republicans who spent much of the Obama era screaming about the federal deficit have embraced a free-spending culture of red ink under Trump, but lately they’re starting to talk more about slowing down—not only with state aid, but especially with state aid.

“We’ve already seen how state contraction can undo federal expansion,” Furman says. “This is the one part of the economy where we know exactly what needs to be done, and we don’t need to invent a brand new creative idea. But I worry that we’re not going to do it.”