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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Most Americans are doing surprisingly well, financially, in the face of a major pandemic raging across the country.

Why it matters: The health of the U.S. consumer is one of the main reasons why a second stimulus is perceived to be much less urgent than the first one was.

Where it stands: Don’t hold your breath for another stimulus deal before President-elect Biden takes office. Congress is on recess next week, and is only in session for another few weeks before breaking again for the December holidays, Axios' Alayna Treene reports.

  • That leaves precious little time to get anything passed before the end of the year. Most lawmakers admit there’s a slim chance both parties reach a compromise on a comprehensive COVID relief bill before Biden is sworn in.
  • There’s a greater chance that some provisions get tied to a government funding deal, which must pass before the end of the year to avoid a shutdown, but substantial negotiations have yet to take place.

By the numbers: Americans' disposable income was $15.7 trillion per year in September, up significantly from its pre-crisis level. Average earnings are $29.50 per hour, up from $28.69 in March.

  • The total amount borrowed has fallen, partly because Americans managed to save 14.3% of their income in September. That's roughly double the pre-crisis savings rate. And credit card balances are plunging.
  • Bloomberg summed up the data last week, under the headline "The American Consumer Is Flush With Cash After Paying Down Debt." Bonds backed by consumer debt are more expensive now than they were pre-crisis.

What they're saying: “The consumer has clearly come back," says Steve Sadove, Mastercard Senior Advisor and a former CEO of Saks. "Early on, the stimulus had a big effect on the consumer, especially the lower-end consumer. As we've gone into the latter parts of the recovery, higher-income consumers are starting to spend again.”

The other side: Not all Americans are doing well. Millions are unemployed and going hungry, and vital crisis-era benefits are scheduled to expire at Christmas.

  • The broad economy remains well below potential, and won't return to its pre-crisis level any time soon. Many sectors, including hospitality, travel, and state and local government, are struggling mightily with no real light at the end of the tunnel.

The bottom line: A second round of stimulus is by no means assured. But if it happens, expect the bulk of the money to go to small businesses, other companies hit hard by the pandemic, and the unemployed.

Go deeper

Jan 24, 2021 - Economy & Business

The limits of Biden's plan to cancel student debt

Data: New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax; Chart: Axios Visuals

There’s a growing consensus among Americans who want President Biden to cancel student debt — but addressing the ballooning debt burden is much more complicated than it seems.

Why it matters: Student debt is stopping millions of Americans from buying homes, buying cars and starting families. And the crisis is rapidly getting worse.

Scammers have stolen over $130 million in coronavirus-related schemes

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Over 100,000 Americans have collectively reported roughly $132 million in fraud losses from scams related to the coronavirus and government stimulus checks since the March start of the pandemic, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Why it matters: Coronavirus-related fraud complaints peaked in May when the IRS began sending its first round of stimulus checks. Congress recently proposed a second round of stimulus.

23 mins ago - Politics & Policy

National parks "drowning in tourists"

Expand chart
Data: National Park Service; note: Gateway National Recreation Area is excluded due to missing data in 2021. Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

National Parks across the U.S. are overflowing with a post-pandemic crush of tourists, leading to increased issues with congestion, traffic jams, user experience, strain on staff and increased damage to the parks.

Why it matters: Some are seeing such a record number they're being forced to limit, and even close, access to certain areas to avoid the danger of eroding the land. The result, ultimately, could change the way Americans interact with the parks going forward.

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