50 indicators for understanding America's economy right now
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed life for everyone. Stores and restaurants shut down, travel bans were put in place, the price of food has gone up, and many businesses asked staff to work from home—if they were able to keep them employed at all. Other companies, facing a massive decline in business, had to lay off entire swaths of their workforce, creating new financial struggles for millions of people. It’s been a challenge across the board.
These changes can be felt every time we check our bank balance. People who have lost their jobs might be watching their grocery budget very carefully and wondering how they can afford to pay their rent, even if they're getting unemployment benefits. Those who continued working might have actually seen their credit card bills go down and their savings tick upward—after all, with restaurants, bars, theaters, and retail stores closed, what’s left to spend money on? Plus, with the future so uncertain, it’s not the worst idea to invest in your rainy-day fund while you have the money.
Microeconomics on the personal or household level tell one story about the coronavirus crisis. But how’s the pandemic shaking out on the national scale? To help understand America’s economy right now, Stacker compiled a list of 50 different economic indicators from a variety of sources. We looked at things like the unemployment rate, the S&P 500, public transit ridership, box office revenue, and the price of gold. As you would probably expect, many of the statistics paint a dismal picture. More than 2.1 million people filed their first claim for unemployment benefits in the week ending May 23. The rate of gross domestic product growth has tumbled by 5%. And automakers have seen an extreme drop in car sales in recent months.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Some statistics, like the rising home sales price, offer a glimpse of hope that the pandemic hasn’t completely wrecked the economy, and a swift recovery may be on the horizon. Click through to see how the economy has changed over the last few months, and what these economic indicators might mean for your life.
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- Initial unemployment claims seasonally adjusted (week ending May 23, 2020): 2,123,000
More than 2.1 million people filed a new unemployment claim for the week ending May 23. It indicates that companies that retained their staff through March and April may have needed to close in mid-May, or may have faced a slowdown that affected their ability to keep people employed.
- Civilian labor force participation rate (April 2020): 60.2%
- Change since February 2020: -3.2%
The civilian labor force participation rate divides the sum of all workers in the country who have jobs (or are actively looking for employment) by the total population of working-age, non-institutionalized civilians to measure the economy’s active workforce. The coronavirus pandemic was a major blow to the workforce participation rate in the U.S., causing it to hit its lowest figure in April since January 1973.
- Change in total private average hourly earnings for all employees (April 2020): +$1.34
Average hourly earnings for workers in the private sector jumped $1.34 in April. The jump could be reflective of the loss of low-wage jobs in the economy during the pandemic, an increase in states’ minimum wages over the last few years, and/or the extra hazard pay some workers received from their companies.
Manufacturing hours worked
- Average workweek for employees on manufacturing private payrolls (April 2020): 38.3 hours
- Change from March 2020: -2.1 hours
- Average overtime (April 2020): 2.1 hours
- Change from March 2020: -0.9 hours
The average workweek for manufacturing workers dropped by around 2 hours in April compared to March. Assembly-line workers are considered at higher risk of coronavirus infection because they tend to work long hours in close proximity to one another. Manufacturers, such those in the auto industry, began shutting down their plants in mid-March to protect their employees and adhere to state guidance, which likely contributed to the shorter average workweek.
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CPI - food
- Food CPI (April 2020): +3.5%
The consumer price index for food rose 3.5% in the 12 months leading up to April 2020—the largest 12-month jump since February 2012. The increase in food prices may have been driven by closures and slowdowns of meat processing plants and a shift toward people buying food at grocery stores, rather than at restaurants and institutions, according to Susan Selasky of the Detroit Free Press.
CPI excluding food and energy prices
- CPI all items except food and energy (April 2020): +1.4%
The consumer price index for all items except food and energy rose 1.4% in April, signaling a period of inflation. This measurement can help economists analyze “core inflation” that’s not influenced by erratic spikes in products like food and energy, which tend to have more volatile pricing than other goods and services.
- Monthly rent growth (April 2020): 2.9%
Rents continued to rise in April, but only by 2.9%—its slowest one-month pace since at least 2014. The measurement is consistent with the overall economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.
Home sales price
- Median home value (March 2020): $248,857
- Year-over-year median home value: +4.1%
- Year-over-year for sale inventory: -9.5%
Home values continued to rise in March, but not nearly as rapidly as they did in previous years. It may indicate that home prices have seen their peak, especially in major cities like Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco, according to Zillow.
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