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COVID-19 and The Economy

THE PANDEMIC EFFECT Learn how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the economy. BOB BOSEWELL—GETTY IMAGES

Maybe you’re reading this magazine in your classroom, with desks spaced six feet apart and your teacher wearing a mask. Maybe you’re reading it at home, and you’ll discuss it online with your teacher or classmates. The coronavirus that began spreading around the world last winter has changed all of our lives in more ways than we can count. Some of the biggest changes have been economic. This month, we take a look at what happened to the U.S. economy this year, where we stand, and what may be ahead.

HARD TIMES Pier 1 Imports is a company affected by the pandemic. Here, a store holds a going-out-of-business sale.


Big Shift In A Short Time

The economy is how the U.S. and other countries measure their wealth and resources over time. When we talk about the economy, we often describe it as good or bad. A good economy is one in which businesses are making money, people are finding jobs, consumers consumer TIRACHARD KUMTANOM—EYEEM/GETTY IMAGES someone who buys goods or services (noun) Some consumers would rather shop online than in a store. are comfortable spending money, and the gross domestic product, or GDP GDP DON MASON—GETTY IMAGES gross domestic product; the total value of the goods and services a country produces (noun) Automobile sales make up a large portion of the United States GDP. , is going up. A bad economy is the opposite. Businesses are closing, people are losing jobs and not spending as much, and the GDP is falling.

PLAYING IT SAFE Restaurants that had to shut down during the pandemic are starting to reopen, with new rules in place. Here, a delivery person and a restaurant worker wear gloves and masks during a food pickup in Los Angeles, California.


In 2019, before anyone had heard of COVID-19, our country’s GDP grew by 2.3%. That was pretty good. But during the first three months (or what economists call the first quarter) of 2020, it fell by 5%. That was pretty bad. Then, during the second quarter, it fell by 32.9%. That was really bad. A recession happens when a country’s GDP declines for two quarters in a row.

Loss Of Jobs And Businesses

NEW RULES Signs help businesses enforce rules for social distancing.


Why did the U.S. economy fall so far so fast? On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic pandemic SAM EDWARDS—GETTY IMAGES an outbreak of a disease that spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people throughout the world (noun) Doctors around the world teamed up to try to stop the spread of the pandemic and keep people healthy. . Activities that took people out of their homes began to shut down.

Two days later, 16 states had closed schools, with the rest soon to follow. And by the end of March, 26 states had issued stay-at-home orders. Only essential businesses, such as groceries, drugstores, gas stations, and hospitals, were allowed to stay open. Most others had to close.

Just as many students were eventually able to attend school remotely, or from a distance, many workers were able to do their jobs from home. They could communicate with coworkers and customers online.

BACK TO WORK A driver in Robeson Township, Pennsylvania, readies a bus for students by spraying sanitizer.


But others, including workers in restaurants, shops, and hair salons, could not. By late May, more than 40 million people in the country lost their jobs. Unemployment unemployment BETTMANN—GETTY IMAGES the state of not having a job; the rate of how many people don't have jobs in a country (noun) During the Great Depression, unemployment in the United States was very high. hit Black and Hispanic workers hardest. According to research from McKinsey & Company, about a quarter of the small businesses in the U.S. could close for good because of the effects of the pandemic.

Government Steps In

On March 27, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Trump. It would cost the country more than $2 trillion.

SIGNING A LAW President Donald Trump signs the CARES Act into law on March 27.


Money from the CARES Act provided help in a number of different areas. About a quarter of it went to big corporations. Another quarter of the money went to individuals. Checks called stimulus payments stimulus payment ANDRESR—GETTY IMAGES money given to people to help stimulate, or grow, the economy (noun) The government sent stimulus payments by mail to eligible Americans. were sent to adults who earned less than $99,000 a year; they received up to $1,200, plus an additional $500 for each child under age 17. Some mortgage and student loan payments were paused. Landlords weren’t allowed to evict renters who were unable to pay their rent.

Money also went small businesses, to help them cover rent and pay their employees. State and local governments received money, too. For example, unemployment payments, which are typically provided by the state, were supplemented supplement JOSE LUIS PELAEZ INC./GETTY IMAGES to add to (verb) I take vitamins to supplement my diet. with money from the federal government. The rest of the money from the CARES Act was allotted for public services, such as education and public health.

The Road To Recovery

So where does the economy go from here? In May, June, and July, the country restored millions of jobs that were lost earlier in the year. Many of those were in businesses such as restaurants and hotels, which had fully or partially reopened.

Consumers started spending more in May and June, as well. They bought clothes and shoes, dined out, and rescheduled dental visits and checkups that they’d postponed. But in July, as cases of COVID-19 continued to rise, consumer confidence—a monthly survey that measures how Americans feel about the economy and predicts their spending—dropped again.

In August, as this story was being written, Congress and the president were negotiating another act, similar to CARES, to help struggling Americans. The results of those negotiations are not yet clear. What is clearer than ever, however, is that the health of the country and the health of the economy go hand in hand.

—By Jean Chatzky

Extra! Click here to read a related article from TIME for Kids.