Economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States

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Economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States
IMF World Economic Outlook January 2021 Real GDP growth rate (map).svg
Map showing real GDP growth rates in 2020, as projected by the International Monetary Fund
DateFebruary 2020– Ongoing[1]
TypeGlobal recession
CauseCOVID-19 pandemic–induced stock market crash and lockdown
Outcome
  • Sharp rise in unemployment
  • Stress on supply chains
  • Decrease in government income
  • Collapse of the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries
  • Reduced consumer activity

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has been largely disruptive, adversely affecting travel, financial markets, employment, shipping, and other industries.

Overview

In 2020, the U.S. GDP contracted at a 3.5% annualized rate. It was the biggest contraction since 1946 and the first contraction since 2009.[2][3]

The United States Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey published weekly statistics of the effects of the pandemic on Americans' lives. For week 12 (July 16–21), 51.1% of respondents reported a loss of employment income since March 13, 2020, 12.1% reported food scarcity, 40.1% delayed getting medical care in the past four weeks, and 26.5% reported housing insecurity.[4]

Forecast

In May 2020, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) summarized the ongoing and expected economic impact:[citation needed]

  • The unemployment rate increased from 3.5% in February to 14.7% in April 2020, representing a decline of more than 25 million people employed, plus another 8 million persons that exited the labor force.
  • Job declines were focused on industries that rely on "in-person interactions" such as retail, education, health services, leisure and hospitality. For example, 8 of the 17 million leisure and hospitality jobs were lost in March and April 2020.
  • The economic impact was expected to hit smaller and newer businesses harder, as they typically have less financial cushion.
  • Real (inflation-adjusted) consumer spending fell 17% from February to April 2020, as social distancing reached its peak. In April, car and light truck sales were 49% below the late 2019 monthly average. Mortgage applications fell 30% in April 2020 versus April 2019.
  • Real GDP was forecast to fall at a nearly 38% annual rate in the second quarter, or 11.2% versus the prior quarter, with a return to positive growth of 5.0% in Q3 and 2.5% in Q4 2020. However, real GDP was not expected to regain its Q4 2019 level until 2022 or later.
  • The unemployment rate was forecast to average 11.5% in 2020 and 9.3% in 2021.[5]

The CBO also forecast in August 2020 that the federal budget deficit in fiscal year 2020 would be $3.3 trillion (16.0% GDP), versus the January estimate of $1 trillion (4.6% GDP). This represents the largest annual deficit since 1945. This increase reflects relief legislation such as the CARES Act, tax revenue declines due to reduced economic activity, and automatic stabilizer spending for unemployment compensation.[6][7]

Statistical summary

The following table illustrates the impact of the pandemic on key economic measures. February 2020 represented the pre-crisis level for most variables, with the S&P 500 stock market index (a leading indicator) falling from its February 19 peak. From February through June, the number of persons with jobs was down 14.6 million. The U.S. also added $3.1 trillion to the public debt in just 4 months.

Variable Feb Mar Apr May June July August
Jobs, level (000s)[8] 152,463 151,090 130,303 133,002 137,802 139,582 140,914
Jobs, monthly change (000s)[8] 251 −1,373 −20,787 2,699 4,800 1,780 1,371
Unemployment rate %[9] 3.5% 4.4% 14.7% 13.3% 11.1% 10.2% 8.4%
Number unemployed (millions)[10] 5.8 7.1 23.1 21.0 17.8 16.3 13.6
Employment to population ratio %, age 25–54[11] 80.5% 79.6% 69.7% 71.4% 73.5% 73.8% 75.3%
Inflation rate % (CPI-All)[12] 2.3% 1.5% 0.4% 0.2% 0.7% 1.0% TBD
Stock market S&P 500 (avg. level)[13] 3,277 2,652 2,762 2,920 3,105 3,208 3,392
Debt held by public ($ trillion)[14] 17.4 17.7 19.1 19.9 20.5 20.6 20.8

Impact on individuals

Employment effects

Government statistics

US non-farm payrolls, 2005 – June 2021

In the February 2020 jobs report, which reflected the employment situation before lockdowns began, 1.28 million Americans were classed as "permanent job losers". In August, that number was at 3.41 million, and in September it rose to 3.75 million. "Temporary layoffs", meanwhile, decreased, suggesting that some job losses originally understood as "temporary" had now become permanent.[15]

On May 8, 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 20.5 million nonfarm jobs were lost and the unemployment rate rose to 14.7 percent in April.[16] This followed reports of weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance that increased from a typical level of around 200,000 per week through early March, to 3.3 million the week of March 21, a peak of 6.9 million (March 28), and declines each week thereafter to 3.0 million the week of May 9. A total of 36.5 million filed for unemployment insurance from March 21 to May 9.[17] The Congressional Budget Office estimated that costs for unemployment insurance claims were $49 billion in April 2020, versus $3 billion in April 2019. An estimated $27 billion of the increase was due to the $600/week increase in unemployment benefits due to the CARES Act.[18]

On May 20, 2021, the Labor Department reported that there had been only 444,000 unemployment claims during the previous week, the lowest number since the beginning of the pandemic.[19]

Surveys and studies

In a paper published in early May 2020, the Urban Institute estimated that about 25 million people would lose their employer-provided health insurance if the unemployment rate were to rise to 20%. Of these, they speculated, 12 million would obtain Medicaid coverage, 6 million would find coverage privately, and 7 million would become uninsured.[20]

By summer 2020, nearly two-thirds of households where an adult had contracted COVID-19 had also experienced job loss or a reduction in hours. Likewise, "serious financial problems" were reported by nearly two-thirds of those households, whereas such problems were reported by just under half of U.S. households overall, according to a survey by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University that was conducted in July and August.[21]

Eviction and foreclosure

The economic impact and mass unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic has raised fears of a mass eviction crisis, with an analysis by the Aspen Institute indicating between 19 and 23 million, or 1 in 5 renters, are at risk for eviction by the end of September 2020.[22] A separate July 2021 United States Census Bureau survey projects 7 million households unable to pay rent and at risk of eviction, with a potential 3 million eviction filings in the next two months.[23]

The federal CARES Act provided for a 120-day moratorium on evictions for federally backed properties, beginning on March 27 when the act was signed, and lasting til July 24[24][25] on eviction filings for rental units in properties that participate in federal assistance programs, or have a federally backed mortgage or multifamily mortgage loan.[26] One estimate is that this eviction moratorium covers 28% of all rental units in the United States;[27] however, there are no enforcement mechanisms provided.[28] A number of cities and states also passed rulings suspending evictions for varying amounts of time.[29] When these moratoria ended in June and July 2020, evictions increased in many states and jurisdictions.[30] A new nationwide moratorium was announced by the Centers for Disease Control began on September 1 which banned evictions for most renters for the rest of 2020.[31][32]

The CARES Act also provided protection from foreclosure until August 31, 2020, for homeowners with federally backed mortgages.[33] The CARES Act also allows mortgage holders the right to a mortgage forbearance for up to 180 days, with another 180 days on request.[34][35] Several states have also passed or are considering foreclosure moratoriums as well.[36]

The United States Census Bureau uses their Household Pulse Survey[37] to gather data on both monthly rent and mortgage payments are being affected during the pandemic. For the week of July 16–21, 2020, 8,251,079 homeowners of owner-occupied housing units did not make their mortgage payment on time and 4,473,321 deferred their payments, out of 148,685,473 surveyed.[38] Similarly, 13,339,515 renters did not pay last month's rent, and 1,504,864 deferred their rent, out of 73,065,587 responses.[39]

Homelessness had already been rising before the pandemic, with a 2% increase in the number of homeless people between January 2019 and January 2020.[40]

Home sales

People who could afford to buy homes enjoyed the lowest mortgage interest rates since at least 1971.[41] Home sales rose and showed a trend of people who could work from home moving out of expensive, large cities into smaller, lower-cost cities where they could afford larger homes with more on-site amenities.[42] States like California and New York as an example are seeing an exodus as a result of the pandemic.[43] Housing prices rose amid a building boom as lumber futures reached an all-time high.[44][45]

Food insecurity

Food insecurity across the United States rose significantly in 2020.[46] Feeding America predicts that an additional 17 million people could become food insecure because of the pandemic, bringing the total to more than 54 million people in the country.[citation needed]

Before COVID-19, food insecurity was still prevalent, impacting 37 million people in the U.S. Since food insecurity and poor nutrition are "associated with chronic diseases that put people at higher risk for the more severe complications of COVID-19, the food access crisis has exacerbated the already glaring disparities in health outcomes for vulnerable people, including low-income people, children, older adults, and [undocumented immigrants living in the United States]."[47] While the factors underlying racial and ethnic disparities are complex and multidimensional, disparities in food security have played a crucial role in the health inequities we have witnessed during the pandemic. The ability to eat healthy, nutritious food depends on an individual's circumstances and environment.[47]

Over the past decade, research has linked poor nutrition to adverse health outcomes stemming from both a lack of food and an excess of unhealthy food. Many people reside in communities designated as food deserts, where there is limited access to grocery stores within walking distance and unhealthy, cheaper food options are more widely available. In 2017, the USDA found that food insecurity was associated with 10 of the costliest and most deadly preventable diseases in the country, including hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and stroke.[48]

The pandemic has left millions of people in the U.S. at-risk when it comes to nutrition and overall health status. The pandemic has complicated food insecurity among children, older adults, and undocumented immigrants. Feeding America states that the estimated number of food-insecure kids could jump from 11 million to an estimated 18 million. Additionally, many children in the U.S. rely on free meals for sustenance. While food banks and pantries have amped up services, the temporary disruption in these services could have devastating long-term consequences. Many seniors live on low and fixed incomes, resulting in decreased access to adequate nutrition and support services. Seniors are also particularly vulnerable to the devastating effects of COVID-19, leading many to avoid unnecessary visits to food pantries and health clinics. Undocumented immigrants are arguably the most vulnerable to food insecurity because they are ineligible for many government assistance programs. Even before the pandemic, 1 in 4 experienced food insecurity.[49] Individuals living in the U.S illegally are not eligible for SNAP, Medicaid, nor federal stimulus checks. Instead, many must rely on food pantries and local community-based health centers for assistance.[citation needed]

Food pantries have encountered record numbers of clients, with many across the country serving 55 percent more people now than before the pandemic, according to Feeding America. The pandemic has further stretched existing community resources, and it has demonstrated the need for additional funding geared towards addressing the largest contributing factors of health – the social determinants of health.[50]

Impact by economic sector

Financial market impacts

March 3: Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell announces a 50 basis point (0.5% percentage point) interest rate cut in light of "evolving risks to economic activity."

On February 27, 2020, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) dropped 1,191 points, the largest single-day point drop in the index's history at the time; some attributed the drop to anxiety about the epidemic.[51] The same day, the S&P 500 logged a 4.4% decline.[52] Since then, the record has been beaten five more times during the outbreak on March 9 (2,013), March 11 (1,465), March 12 (2,353), and finally setting the current record for most points lost in a single day by losing 2,997 points on March 16. It once again fell another 1,338 points on March 18. On March 13, the stock market rebounded for the single largest one-day point gain in the market's history by gaining 1,985 points after Trump declared a state of national emergency to free up resources to combat the virus.[53][54] The six business days it took for the S&P 500 Index to drop 10% (from February 20 to 27) "marked the quickest 10% decline from an all-time high in the index's history."[52] From January 21 to March 1, the DJIA dropped more than 3,500 points, equating to roughly a 13% decrease.[55][56]

Stock index futures declined sharply during Trump's March 11 address,[57] and the Dow Jones declined 10% the following day—the largest daily decline since Black Monday in 1987—despite the Federal Reserve also announcing it would inject $1.5 trillion into money markets.[58] By March 18, investors were shunning even assets considered safe havens during economic crises, such as government bonds and gold, moving into cash positions.[59] By March 20, the Dow Jones was below the level when President Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, having fallen 35% from its February peak.[60] The markets rallied between March 23 and 26, with the Dow having its best three-day gain since 1931. On March 27, the Dow fell 3.5% and the S&P 500 fell 3.2%. The NASDAQ Index also fell. Boeing fell 10%, while Exxon and Disney each fell 6%.[61]

In February 2020, the American companies Apple Inc. and Microsoft began lowering expectations for revenue because of supply chain disruptions in China caused by the virus.[62] In a February 27 note to clients, Goldman Sachs said it expects no earnings growth for U.S. companies in 2020 as a result of the virus, at a time when the consensus forecast of Wall Street expected "earnings to climb 7%."[63] On March 20, 2020, as part of an SEC filing, AT&T cancelled all stock buyback plans included a plan to repurchase stock worth $4 billion during the second quarter. The reasons AT&T gave for the cancellation was to invest the money into its networks and in taking care of its employees during the pandemic.[64]

In response to the economic damage caused by the pandemic, some economists have advocated for financial support from the government for individual Americans and for banks and businesses.[65][66] Others have objected to government intervention on the grounds that it would alter the role of the Federal Reserve and enshrine moral hazard as a defining market principle.[67]

Several officials have faced allegations of insider trading, citing sales of their stock portfolios that coincided with private briefings and other statements regarding COVID-19, and almost immediately preceding a major stock market crash on February 20. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr sold up to $1.7 million of stocks while making public statements of reassurances of the government's level of coronavirus preparedness. Georgia senator Kelly Loeffler sold tens of millions of dollars worth of stocks after a closed briefing on the coronavirus.[68] Senator Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, sold between $1.5m and $6m in stock of Allogene Therapeutics, a biotechnology company. U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi's husband purchased $3.3 million worth of technology stocks expected to surge during a lockdown.[69] On May 14, after having had a warrant served against him by the FBI, Burr announced that he would step down from his position during the investigation.[70]

The supply of coins in the U.S. banking system was lowered to the point of rationing, due to many stores being closed, many coin-counting machines being unavailable, and fewer coins produced by the U.S. mint to protect employees.[71][72]

However, as the economy recovers from COVID-19, some such as J.P. Morgan Chase strategist Marko Kolanovic expects the U.S. stock market surge that has happened since the trough to continue into 2021.[73]

Energy sector

The U.S. oil, gas and chemicals industry lost 107,000 jobs between March and August 2020, according to Deloitte. When demand for jet fuel, diesel and gasoline suddenly dropped, oil was in oversupply.[74]

Health care sector

Production of emergency supplies

In response to shortages, some alcoholic beverage facilities started manufacturing and distributing alcohol-based hand sanitizer.[75] General Motors opened its manufacturing, logistics, and purchasing infrastructure for use by Ventec, a Washington State manufacturer of medical ventilators.[76] As medical mask manufacturers hired hundreds of new workers and increased output,[77] in response to urgent requests from hospital workers, volunteers with home sewing machines started producing thousands of non-medical masks which can be sterilized and re-used. Fabric was bought privately or donated by Joann Fabrics.[78] The CDC recommended the use of homemade masks (preferably in combination with a full-face splash shield) only as a "last resort" when no other respiratory protective technologies were available, including reused professional masks.[79] Bauer Hockey began manufacturing face shields for medical applications on March 26.[80]

Some U.S. officials and commentators criticized the outsourcing of critical materials—like the production of essential medical supplies—to China.[81][82]

International aid

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has donated coronavirus test kits and face masks to the United States.[83] Russia sent a cargo plane with ventilators and face masks. A senior U.S. official said: "We appreciate Russia selling these items to us below market value."[84]

Surge in medical personnel

Several states and non-profit groups started recruiting retired medical personnel to increase staffing in hospitals and at temporary facilities.[85][86] Some jurisdictions granted emergency medical licenses to inactive doctors and incoming resident and interns, and expanded the tasks that nurses were allowed to do.[87]

Telemedicine

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp increase in the use of telemedical services in the United States, specifically for COVID-19 screening and triage.[88][89] As of March 29, 2020, three companies are offering free telemedical screenings for COVID-19 in the United States: K Health (routed through an AI chatbot), Ro (routed through an AI chatbot), and GoodRx (offered through its HeyDoctor platform).[90][89][91]

Meat industry

May 8, 2020: Distribution of frozen chicken to those in need in Baltimore, Maryland

Meatpacking plants experienced sporadic shutdowns as many workers contracted COVID-19, resulting in spot meat shortages around the country.[citation needed]

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report stating that by April 27, out of 130,578 workers nationwide, at least 4,913 meat and poultry plant workers had COVID-19. Cases were reported in 115 plants located in 19 states, and at least 20 people had died.[92][93][94] At least 2 USDA meat inspectors have died of COVID-19,[95] 137 have tested positive, and 704 others have refused to work due to lack of protective equipment in a high-risk environment.[96]

As of April 22, about 25% of the pork processing capacity of the nation has been cut.[97] Beginning in late March 2020, weekly beef production is down 19% year-over-year.[98] As the fastest-growing mass-market meat animal in the United States, chickens are the most vulnerable to farms running out of capacity to hold an excess population. At least two million chickens were euthanized on farms in Delaware and Maryland rather than slaughtered for meat, due to lack of capacity to process them for human consumption.[99]

By May 5, around 18% of Wendy's restaurants (concentrated in certain geographic areas of the country) were unable to serve beef sandwiches, but still had chicken available.[100] Wendy's uses fresh beef; in contrast, McDonald's, which uses frozen beef, was unaffected.[100] Supermarket and big box chains Kroger, Wegmans, Costco, Whole Foods, ShopRite, Sam's Club, Stop and Shop, Price Chopper Supermarkets, and others started limiting the amount of meat purchased per customer.[101][102][103][104] Hundreds of millions of pounds of beef and pork remain in cold storage, originally intended for restaurants; the USDA started allowing this meat to be sold at grocery stores, though it must be cut down by store workers into consumer-sized packages.[105]

Restaurant industry

May 11, 2020: sign for curbside restaurant service only in Brunswick, Georgia

The U.S. restaurant industry was projected to have $899 billion in sales for 2020 by the National Restaurant Association, the main trade association for the industry in the United States.[106] The industry as a whole as of February 2020 employed more than 15 million people, representing 10 percent of the workforce directly.[106] It indirectly employed close to another ten percent when dependent businesses such as food producers, trucking, and delivery services were factored in.[106]

On March 15, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio Health Department director Amy Acton ordered the closure of all bars and restaurants, saying the government "encouraged restaurants to offer carryout or delivery service, but they would not be allowed to have people congregating in the businesses."[107] The next day, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland followed suit.[108]

Groups of restaurateurs in New York City and Cincinnati called on governments to provide help to the nation's small and independent restaurants.[109][106] On March 19 the New York group called for state governments to issue orders for rent abatements, suspension of sales and payroll taxes, and a full shutdown so business interruption insurance coverage would be triggered.[110] On March 20 the Cincinnati group called on the federal government to provide a $225 billion bailout to the restaurant industry.[106]

Several restaurant chains altered their operating procedures to prevent the spread of the virus, including removing seating, restricting the use of condiments, and switching to mobile payment systems. Many restaurants opted to close their dining rooms and instead switch to solely take-out food service to comply with physical distancing recommendations.[111]

According to the National Restaurant Association, 60% of restaurant owners did not think the relief programs would be enough to keep employees on payroll. Restaurants reported $30 billion in losses in March.[112]

Retail

March 18: Best Buy lets only a limited number of people into their Union Square store in New York City.

A number of retailers, particularly grocery stores, reduced their opening hours to allow additional time to restock and deep-clean their stores.[113] Major stores such as Walmart, Apple, Nike, Albertson's, and Trader Joe's also shortened their hours.[113][114] Some grocery store chains, including Meijer,[115] Stop & Shop and Dollar General, devoted a portion of their operating hours to serve only senior citizens.[116][117] Many grocery stores and pharmacies began installing plexiglass sneeze guards at register areas to protect cashiers and pharmacists, and adding markers six feet apart at checkout lines to encourage customers to maintain physical distance.[118] To prevent hoarding, many supermarkets and retailers placed limits on certain products such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, over-the-counter medication, and cleaning supplies.[119] However, the Food Marketing Institute announced that its supply chain was not strained and all products would be available in the future.[119] Major retail chains started hiring tens of thousands of employees to keep up with demand, including Walmart (150,000), CVS Pharmacy (50,000), Dollar General (50,000), and 7-Eleven (20,000).[120] Sheetz convenience stores began offering free meals to children in need at select stores in Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.[121] A daily senior shopping hour, checkout line distancing markers, hand washing and sanitizer for employees, disinfecting wipes for customers to use on carts, and a ban on reusable bags became mandatory in Massachusetts on March 25.[122] Many stores began limiting the number of people inside at a time, to increase the typical distance between customers, resulting in outdoor lines with people spaced six feet apart.[123]

Retail sales fell 8.3% in March and 16.4% in April, according to the Commerce Department.[124] The hardest-hit sectors included home furnishings (down by two-thirds over these two months) and clothing (down 89% over these two months).[125]

Milk delivery services experienced demand which significantly exceeded pre-existing capacity.[126]

On June 19, 2020, about a month after starting to reopen their outlets in the US, Apple temporarily closed 11 retail stores across Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina due to rising numbers of coronavirus cases.[127]

In July 2020, the largest supermarket chain in the country, Kroger, stopped giving coins as change. Because the U.S. Mint had decreased coin production to protect its employees during the pandemic, and because banks were giving fewer coins to the Federal Reserve, Kroger had difficulty obtaining enough coins for its business. (Instead, Kroger offered to make charitable donations or to issue store credit to the customer.)[128]

On June 13, 2021, the Washington Prime Group, an owner of over 100 U.S. shopping malls, filed for bankruptcy.[129]

Seafood industry

The COVID-19 pandemic affected fishing and seafood industries worldwide beginning with the temporary lockdown and closing of all but essential businesses. This affected restaurants, which in the U.S. is where 80% of fish and seafood consumption takes place.[130] Disruption to seafood exports resulted in cancelled orders to both national and overseas purchases.[131] Many fisheries became unprofitable and seafood export and import outlets were shuttered, with fishing crews and seafood processing workers being driven into finding other work as market dries up.[132]

In the midst of the pandemic, seafood industries, environmentalist and local companies attempted to adapt by urging consumers to buy local seafood and providing home deliveries.[130] Providing home deliveries contributed to further strengthening connections between suppliers and consumers directly, as well purchasing seafood otherwise overlooked by consumers in an attempt to experiment in homemade dishes.[133] Promoting local seafood purchases has also decreased the travel, amount of time fish is frozen and/or re-thawed as well as possibilities of renaming or altering description of fish brought into the United States from overseas, perhaps even caught in foreign or international waters, which make up to 80% of seafood consumed in the United States.[134]

As of 2016, the seafood industry had generated 1.2 million workers with jobs[135] and creating a market worth 5.6 billion US dollars as of 2018,[130] but as the pandemic has taken place, "90–95% of markets evaporated overnight."[136]

President Trump has also issued an executive order, proposing U.S. farm-raised fish and shellfish as the new suitable form of seafood consumption in the United States. The executive order is meant to "encourage public-private partnerships and promote inter-agency, intergovernmental, and international cooperation in order to improve global maritime domain awareness… and economic growth,"[137] as well as strengthening national export and decreasing foreign competition.[138]

Chile's salmon farms, declared critical industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, are one of the country's major employers.[139]

The pandemic is impacting seafood supply chains on every level, from fisherfolk and coastal communities to large scale processors, distributors, foodservice buyers, and consumers.[140][page needed][141] Many seafood commodities are suffering from unprecedented drops in market value and the communities that capture and produce these commodities have been significantly disrupted.[140][page needed][142] A variety of policy approaches balancing public and economic health have been implemented in response. Canada, Scotland, Norway, and Chile have identified salmon farming as a critical economic sector, loosening pandemic-related restrictions on the industry.[143][144] In Chiloé, Chile, salmon industry leaders made a voluntary commitment to operate at 50% capacity to reduce contagion risk.[139] In Norway, timelines on all personal and vessel certificates have been extended by three months.[145] In Scotland, fishing vessel owners are receiving federal assistance proportional to their vessel's size.[146] As a precautionary measure, Indonesia has halted imports of live fish from China.[147] In the United States, a coalition of major US seafood producers including Cargill and Trident Seafoods requested federal assistance to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the US seafood industry and supply chain in a letter to President Trump sent on March 24, 2020.[148] Specifically, the coalition expressed concern for "the companies and workers who harvest, farm, prepare, process, package, and distribute the food products that we produce in our country"—producers and mid-chain entities in the seafood supply chain.[149] They warn that without immediate financial assistance the COVID-19 pandemic will "cause permanent damage to our nation's ability to harvest, farm, process, and distribute seafood products."[149] Three recommendations are given: first to increase USDA Section 32 Farm and Food Support spending by two billion dollars, second to provide 1.5 billion dollars in assistance to the Department of Commerce to respond to the man-made economic disaster of foodservice closures, and third to purchase $500 million of surplus seafood via the Secretary of Commerce and Department of Agriculture.[149] As of May 2020, these requests are far from being met. On May 7, 2020, the US Secretary of Commerce announced an amendment to Sec. 12005 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act allocating $300 million in financial assistance to COVID-19 affected coastal and fishery communities.[150] On the same day, President Trump enacted the Executive Order on Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth. The order aims to increase the competitiveness of the American seafood industry via deregulation. Under the order, all eight Regional Fishery Management Councils must provide policy recommendations to "reduce burdens on domestic fishing" and initiate these recommendations by May 7, 2021.[151]

Tens of thousands of reefers, large refrigerated containers, holding seafood were stranded in Chinese ports following the Lunar New Year holiday.[152]
Sales of processed seafood products like surimi have increased in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

China is the world's largest producer, consumer, importer, exporter, and processor of seafood and seafood products.[153] In February 2020, freight activity in Chinese ports crashed to less than a third normal levels as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.[154] China's imports and exports plummeted forcing distributors to rapidly find new markets or let their product spoil. The country's ports suffered from severe congestion.[154] With travel restricted and ports barely operational, huge quantities of frozen seafood were stranded at sea for weeks.[152] In March 2020, Beijing began providing federal assistance to reinvigorate the seafood transporters and distributors. However, most efforts were focused on keeping reefers (large refrigerated containers) plugged in so that fish doesn't spoil, rather than distributing that food to buyers and consumers.[152]

No country is unaffected by the pandemic and every policy aiming to mitigate the threat of COVID-19 must make compromises.[140][page needed] However, the cost of these compromises in low-income nations can be particularly severe. Small scale fisheries make up the majority of the fishing sector in emergent nations.[155] Fishing vessels, landing sites, and processing plants are frequently crowded, even more so where regulations are less prevalent. For example, nearly 10% of Ghana residents are employed by local fisheries.[156] Congregation is the central element of the country's fishing communities. People of all ages gather at landing sites to catch, sell, and process fish. Ghana's coast is dotted by more than 300 landing sites, each of which draws crowds of a hundred or more daily.[157] It's fisheries and others like them tend to be major employers and produce locally available and economically accessible protein, enhancing food and job security. The 2.2 million Ghanaians working in fisheries produce 60% of animal protein in an average Ghanaian diet. Rarely exported small pelagic fish are often smoked and dried, preserving them without the need for refrigeration. These dried fish, known locally as the "people's fish," are essential to the food security of Ghana's poor communities.[158] Notably, the "people's fish" are threatened by the pandemic despite not having a place in globalized supply chains like most seafood commodities. Leaders must choose: close the markets and critically threaten the food security of millions, or leave them open and allow tens of thousands of Ghanaians to congregate shoulder to shoulder daily, encouraging community spread of COVID-19 in a country whose health care system ranks in the bottom 30% worldwide.[159]

Frozen, canned, or otherwise processed seafood products have weathered the pandemic far better than fresh fish, sometimes even showing an upward trend in sales.[160][161] Historically, consumers have shown a preference for processed seafood over fresh fish because "they feel assured that it is not going to make them sick."[162] While there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread by seafood, this belief appears to be significantly shaping consumer behavior.[163] The Chinese online retailer Hema Fresh has seen online orders for processed seafood products like surimi "skyrocket".[161] While consumers appear to be choosing processed seafood for health reasons, this trend puts more of the most vulnerable at risk on the supply side, as seafood processing plants, often the only employer available for low-income workers, are notoriously cramped and have a poor history of health practices.[164] These externalities (costs that not borne by those who produce and sell goods) are hidden by the conceptual, temporal, and physical distance between the seafood and the consumers in today's interconnected seafood marketplace.[165]

Shipping and mail

With consumers increasingly relying on online retailers, Amazon planned to hire another 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers and raise wages $2 per hour through April 2020. They also reported shortages of certain household staples.[166] At its warehouses, Amazon has stopped exit screenings, as well as group meetings at the beginning of shifts, and has staggered shift times and break times. The company also announced it would provide up to two weeks of pay to all employees diagnosed with coronavirus or placed into quarantine, but presumably not for employees who merely have symptoms of fever and cough.[167] Amazon workers complained paid medical leave was difficult to obtain because of limited access to coronavirus testing, and some petitioned the company to extend paid leave to elderly and medically vulnerable workers without a positive test.[168] As small numbers of workers have tested positive for coronavirus, various Amazon warehouses have closed for sanitization, including one in Kentucky for several days.[168] Amazon workers at the Staten Island warehouse and some Instacart workers nationwide separately announced strikes for March 30, demanding access to PPE, better sick pay, hazard pay for Instacart orders, and a longer closure of the Staten Island warehouse for cleaning.[169] From March 1 to September 19, 2020 nearly 20,000 of Amazon's U.S. employees tested positive or were presumed positive.[170]

The Chicago Tribune reported in March 2020 that employees at UPS, FedEx, and XPO often have been pressured not to take time off, even with symptoms such as fever and cough consistent with coronavirus. Public health authorities say the risk is relatively low to customers receiving packages, in part because coronavirus does not live for very long on cardboard, but infection most certainly is a danger for employees working beside crowded conveyor belts.[171]

UPS and FedEx suspended all delivery time guarantees but continued domestic pickups and deliveries. Some international private package deliveries were delayed, while others were completely suspended due to government shutdowns in other countries.[172]

Domestic package delivery continued, with two- and three-day package delivery guarantees extended by one day, due to lack of affordable domestic cargo transportation (presumably due to cancellation of most passenger airline flights).[173] A large amount of mail was held due to sustained business shutdowns, with the USPS extending the time period before returning to sender.[174] The USPS stopped accepting international mail for many countries, either due to suspension of service in the destination country or lack of affordable transportation.[175] Some military and diplomatic mail destinations were also shut down.[175] Some mail destined for Europe was diverted from air to sea transport, with a small number of containers sent by ships departing from the JFK International Service Center in New York for Rotterdam on April 20[176] and April 27,[177] 2020.

Some postal workers complained of lack of social distancing at work and outages of supplies, including masks, gloves, and rubber bands.[178]

In response to the workplace hazards associated with handling and delivering returned packages, some companies have instituted policies meant to minimize risk to both workers and customers. Examples include extending the amount of time allotted to customers to return an item,[179] allowing customers to return an item to a physical location even if they purchased it online,[180] and quarantining returned packages for at least one day upon arrival in the warehouse.

Financial impact on the U.S. Postal Service

Ultimately, the pandemic contributed to an increase in e-commerce. By mid-April 2020, with many businesses dropping advertising campaigns or closing completely, the United States Postal Service (USPS) experienced a 30% drop in volume[181] and projected a $13 billion loss in revenue[182] for 2020. The service was reluctant to accept a $10 billion loan allocated by the CARES Act because it would increase already high debt levels and give too much control to the U.S. Treasury, possibly advancing the Trump administration's plan to privatize the postal service.[183] It requested $89 billion in grant aid from Congress.[181] The initially projected 2020 losses did not occur. In the fiscal year 2020, compared to the previous year, the amount of mail sent by the USPS grew 18.8 percent and operating revenue increased nearly $2 billion.[184]

Travel industry

Many in line airplanes with the Delta Air Lines logo on the tail, parked on pavement behind a fence.
Delta Air Lines planes parked on a taxiway at Kansas City International Airport. The planes are parked due to the sharp decrease in demand for air travel.
March 4: President Trump and Airline CEOs discuss COVID-19's impact on the travel industry.
Demand for motor gasoline fell sharply.

In mid-March, most major American and foreign airlines began cutting back on domestic and international flights as a result of the sudden drop in travel demand from the pandemic and subsequent travel bans. They have phased out routes and were making frequent schedule updates.[185][186] Cruise lines suspended all departures from the United States on March 14.[187]

The outbreak produced occasional disruptions to air traffic control with area control centers in New York and Indianapolis, and airport towers at Midway International Airport in Chicago and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas evacuated for sterilization after at least one person who had been in each tested positive for COVID-19.[188]

On March 14, Amtrak reduced its service between Washington and Boston as the COVID-19 outbreak drastically decreased travel demand. It faced steep revenue losses during the crisis. It also asked noncritical employees "to take time off on an unpaid basis."[189] By the following week, New York's subways, usually the nation's busiest, were running mostly empty, which had the Metropolitan Transportation Authority using $1 billion from its line of credit to stay afloat.[190]

The lobbying group for the airline industry, Airlines for America (A4A), on March 16 called for a $50 billion subsidy, including $4 billion for cargo services.[191] CNBC reports that airlines are preparing for a ban on domestic flights after President Trump said on March 14 he is considering travel curbs and acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf said all options remained on the table when asked about a possible ban, the first since the September 11 attacks in 2001. United Airlines said they expected a drop of $1.5 billion in March revenue, American Airlines said they expected to decrease domestic capacity by 20% in April and 30% in May, and Delta Air Lines told employees it would cut capacity by 40%.[192]

Transport and transport safety

Covid has had many effects on transport: reduction of traffic, increase of speed, increase of extreme speeding, increase in commercial shipping activity, increase dependence as a commercial vehicle society, increase working hours for truckers, and increase death rates per motor vehicle accident (but traffic accident fatalities have increased during the quarantine caused by COVID-19) in the United States.[193] The freight industry experienced a shortage of truck drivers,[194] and freight rates rose higher than 2019 levels.[195] Supply problems and sudden demand for socially-distanced recreation and alternatives to public transport caused a shortage of bicycles.[196]

Impact on federal budget deficit and debt

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress and President Trump enacted the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) on March 18, 2020. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the budget deficit for fiscal year 2020 would increase to $3.3 trillion or 16% GDP, more than triple that of 2019 and the largest deficit since 1945 (measured as percentage of GDP). CBO also forecast the debt held by the public would rise to 98% GDP in 2020, compared with 79% in 2019 and 35% in 2007 before the Great Recession.[6]

Additional proposals for large stimulus packages in late 2020 were stalled.[197] In December 2020, the Groundwork Collaborative think tank said a $3–4.5 trillion stimulus package would be needed to return the economy to pre-pandemic levels.[198]

On July 1, 2021, the Congressional Budget Office said the federal deficit would reach $3 trillion for the second year in a row.[199]

Corporate bankruptcies

The following list is a selection of American companies that have filed for bankruptcy during the pandemic.

Company Sector Date of filing Notes
Guitar Center[200] Musical instruments November 21, 2020
Friendly's[201] Restaurant Chain November 2, 2020
CBL Properties[202] Shopping Mall Operator November 1, 2020
Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust[202] Shopping Mall Operator November 1, 2020
Ruby Tuesday[203] Restaurants October 7, 2020
Sizzler[204] Restaurants September 22, 2020
Town Sports International Holdings[205] Sports Clubs September 14, 2020 Owner of New York Sports Club, Boston Sports Clubs,
Philadelphia Sports Clubs, Washington Sports Clubs,
Lucille Roberts, TMPL Gym and Total Woman Gym and Spa.
Century 21[206] Retail September 10, 2020
Stein Mart[207] Retail August 12, 2020
Lord & Taylor[208] Retail August 2, 2020
Denbury Inc.[209] Energy July 30, 2020
California Pizza Kitchen[210] Restaurants July 29, 2020
Ascena Retail Group[211] Retail July 23, 2020 Parent company of Ann Taylor and Loft, Justice, and Lane Bryant
Tailored Brands[207] Retail July 23, 2020 Holding company for Men's Wearhouse, Jos. A. Bank, K&G Fashion Superstore, and Moores
Briggs & Stratton[212] Gasoline Engines July 20, 2020
Brooks Brothers[207] Retail July 8, 2020
Sur La Table[207] Retail July 8, 2020
Lucky Brand Jeans[213] Apparel July 3, 2020
Chesapeake Energy[214] Energy June 28, 2020
CEC Entertainment[215]
(parent company of Chuck E. Cheese)
Restaurants June 25, 2020
GNC Holdings Inc[207] Retail June 23, 2020
24 Hour Fitness[216] Fitness Centers June 15, 2020
Skillsoft[217] Software June 15, 2020
Tuesday Morning[218] Retail May 27, 2020
Advantage Rent a Car[219] Car rental May 26, 2020
The Hertz Corporation[220] Car rental May 22, 2020
Exide[221] Batteries May 19, 2020
J. C. Penney (operating as JCPenney)[222] Retail May 15, 2020
Intelsat[207] Communications May 13, 2020
Stage Stores[207] Retail May 11, 2020
Neiman Marcus[223] Retail May 7, 2020
Sweet Tomatoes (operating as Souplantation)[224] Restaurants May 7, 2020
Gold's Gym[207] Fitness Centers May 4, 2020
J.Crew[207] Retail May 4, 2020
Diamond Offshore Drilling[207] Energy April 26, 2020
Frontier Communications[225] Telecommunications April 14, 2020
True Religion[207] Retail April 13, 2020
XFL[226] American football league April 13, 2020
FoodFirst Global Restaurants[207]
(parent company of Bravo! Cucina Italiana
and Brio Tuscan Grille)
Restaurants April 11, 2020
Dean & DeLuca[227] Grocery stores April 1, 2020
Whiting Petroleum Corporation[207] Energy April 1, 2020
Modell's Sporting Goods[228] Sporting goods March 11, 2020
Art Van Furniture[207] Retail March 8, 2020
Pier 1 Imports[207] Retail February 17, 2020 Filing was before the pandemic, which resulted in company opting to liquidate.

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