Oct 12, 2020 - Economy

It's about to get even worse

Illustration of face mask with cracks

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The weather is getting colder and the days are getting shorter — accelerating the economic and psychological damage of the coronavirus pandemic.

The big picture: During the summer, businesses took advantage of outdoor dining, exercise and shopping, and families and friends safely gathered outside and at a distance. As the season changes, much of what made the last several months bearable will vanish.

Businesses that have made it this far could start closing in droves.

  • The pandemic has already forced at least 100,000 restaurants to close indefinitely or permanently.
  • Those that have stayed open in big metros have done so by seating patrons outside. And although many cities are extending outdoor dining permits into the fall and winter, restaurateurs doubt customers will want to sit outside in the cold or the rain — unless they spend big on outdoor heaters.
  • Many other businesses — from yoga studios to music schools — have been conducting classes outside all summer. Their customers may disappear in the winter, too.

Washington's failure to deliver relief in the form of a stimulus package is hammering the economy.

  • The unemployment situation is rapidly worsening. "We’re seeing a transition from short-term unemployment to a situation where a lot of these workers are not going to have a job to get back to," says James Stock, an economist at Harvard.
  • And the lack of stimulus money and unemployment insurance is pushing Americans to tighten their wallets — a troubling sign for the economy's health.
  • "The expiration of enhanced unemployment insurance benefits pulled $667 billion in purchasing power out of the economy in August alone," per the Economic Policy Institute.

The upcoming holiday season could trigger case spikes all over the country — or further devastate the hard-hit travel industry.

  • "People are tired of isolation and lockdown," Stock says. Many may use the holidays as an excuse to gather indoor in groups, which dramatically increases the likelihood of transmission and spread.
  • But if people choose not to travel for the holidays, the already-battered travel industry — set to lose $500 billion this year — will lose even more money and shed even more jobs.

It didn't have to be this way. With masks, social distancing and other precautions, America could have controlled the virus. But we didn't.

  • "It's technically completely feasible to have a pre-vaccine recovery, but we’ve just chosen not to do that," says Stock. "We’ve chosen deaths and job losses over health and recovery."

The bottom line: In July, I wrote that the pain of the pandemic was about to get a lot worse. It turns out we hadn't seen anything yet.

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