Jan 15, 2021 - Economy & Business

Americans are still spending money

Source: Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals
Source: Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans spent more money at stores and restaurants in 2020 than they did in 2019 — even in the face of a devastating global pandemic that shut down broad sectors of the economy.

Why it matters: The monthly retail sales report this morning came in well below expectations, and showed consumer spending falling on a seasonally-adjusted basis. Total expenditures were still higher in December 2020 than they were a year previously, however.

The big picture: Trillions of dollars of government stimulus have kept income and wealth high. That's in stark contrast to the financial crisis of 2oo8-2009, when Americans saw their home equity wiped out and pulled back sharply on discretionary spending.

  • This time around, retail sales growth has remained (barely) positive on a year-on-year basis. So far, there is no sign that it is about to bounce back.

The bright spot in the report: Auto sales were $118 billion last month, up a startling 13% from $104 billion in November, and a similar level in December 2019. They helped to make up for a significant decline in spending on holiday gifts.

Go deeper