John Muellbauer, 11 April 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has triggered unprecedented shocks to both supply and demand, raising important questions about the impact on US consumer spending. In the US, consumption comprised as much as 70% of GDP in 2019. Typically, consumption is less volatile than income. But as this column argues, it is now likely to fall even more than household income. One reason is that part of the negative shock originates in disruption to consumption itself. Another comes from the jump in income insecurity as reflected in an unprecedented rise in the unemployment rate. Other reasons include the fall in asset prices and a sharp contraction in credit availability. A plausible scenario from the analysis suggests that US real consumer spending in the second quarter of 2020 could fall by around 20%, if household labour income falls by 16%.

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