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U.S. economic recovery remains fragile, requires further fiscal support

Christian Fernsby |
U.S. economic recovery remains fragile, requiring further fiscal support to move into a more sustained recovery phase from the reopening phase, a senior Federal Reserve official said.

Topics: U.S.   

"The most recent high-frequency data and discussions with regional contacts indicate that the pickup in activity seen in May and June has slowed over the past couple of months," Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said at a virtual event held by the National Association of Business Economics Foundation.

"This slowdown has occurred as the number of virus cases began to rise again in some parts of the country in late June, causing some localities to put their reopening plans on pause or to reimpose restrictions on activity," Mester said.

"The most recent virus data suggest the number of new cases, while still elevated, has turned back down, so I'll be watching to see if the pace of activity picks up again," she said, adding the path of the U.S. economy depends on the path of the virus.

The Cleveland Fed's survey data show that both businesses and consumers see the impact of the virus lasting longer than earlier expected, Mester noted.

"In March, over 80 percent of respondents thought the pandemic would last a year or less. In early August, only half think that, and the other half thinks it will be two years or even longer," she said.

Mester believed that "further fiscal support" is needed to provide a bridge for households, small businesses, and state and local municipalities that have borne the brunt of the pandemic until the recovery is sustainably in place.

However, congressional lawmakers and the U.S. government remain deadlocked over the next COVID-19 relief package after the extra federal unemployment benefits for roughly 30 million Americans expired at the end of July.

Mester expects U.S. economic output in 2020 to be "somewhat below" its level last year, with unemployment remaining in the high single digits by the end of the year.

The U.S. economy grew modestly over the summer amid continued uncertainty about the pandemic and its negative effect on consumer and business activity, according to a Federal Reserve survey released on Wednesday.

"Continued uncertainty and volatility related to the pandemic, and its negative effect on consumer and business activity, was a theme echoed across the country," the survey said.

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