Apr 19, 2020 - Health

America's future foretold

Trump addressing briefing room

Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

Even if you believe every optimistic scenario about how the coming months could unfold, America is still looking at a hole in our finances and society that could take generations to dig out of.

Why it matters: President Trump and his top officials keep telling viewers that the economy will come roaring back within months of getting the virus under control. But the long-term price of the pandemic is just barely beginning to emerge.

Consider these projections, just three months into the crisis — with untold months of twists and pain ahead:

  • Between Congress and the Federal Reserve, the U.S. government has already committed more than $6 trillion "to try to stop an economic calamity — with just limited success," the Washington Post reports.
  • And that total is already rising: The White House and Congress are close to agreeing on an aid package of as much as $500 billion.
  • Even before the virus crisis, the U.S. was on track for a once-unthinkable $1 trillion budget deficit. Now, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs both estimate that could be $4 trillion — the most, relative to the size of the economy, since World War II.

Business borrowing also is setting records: Companies including ExxonMobil and Walgreens, "which binged on debt over the past decade, now are exhausting their credit lines and tapping bondholders for even more cash," the WashPost points out.

  • Wall Street banks warn the pandemic could cost the global economy more than $5 trillion of growth over the next two years, which is "like losing Japan," as Bloomberg put it.
  • States and cities are losing tax money, producing an additional, closer-to-home disaster, as Axios' Stef Kight and Dan Primack reported.

On top of all that is the human cost:

  • Goldman Sachs said in a new forecast last week that the unemployment rate is expected to approach 15% this summer — a sign that the administration's "months not years" formulation for a recovery could be a pipe dream.
  • Columbia University researchers say that under the dire but not unthinkable forecast of 30% unemployment, the U.S. poverty rate would increase from 12% to 19%, the worst in at least 53 years.
  • And you can add in the opportunity cost of businesses that weren't started, or didn't grow, or didn't get additional funding, during this season when so much of American business was on hold.

The bottom line: When the health crisis ends, the effort to rebuild America will just be beginning.

  • An additional danger: the possibility of multiple waves of the virus, requiring cities, states, even regions to go to ground for weeks at a time.
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