As the U.S. recovers from the pandemic, the country’s economic growth will be uneven and take time, the White House’s chief economist said Friday, acknowledging that recent job and retail reports came in below some expectations.
Despite the country’s progress in curbing the virus, the economic outlook isn’t a straight line, Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, said from the briefing room.
“We are in the midst of restarting this economy in earnest, and we are making good progress in doing so,” Rouse said. “However, we must keep in mind that an economy will not heal instantaneously.”
Rouse spoke after a report released Friday on retail sales for the month of April showed no improvement from March, as stimulus spending slowed but also one day after the number of weekly unemployment claims dropped to a new pandemic low of 473,000.
“At moments like this, it is important to focus on trends and not month-to-month or week-to-week oscillations,” she explained.
Rouse said that federal aid was still needed while businesses continue to bounce back and people look for jobs, admitting that some industries were still having trouble finding enough workers.
“We know that the mismatch between different parts of the economy will show up in unexpected ways until the economy more fully recovers,” she said. “As the president urged earlier this week, we must be patient.”
Consumer spending, which makes up two-thirds of all economic activity in the U.S., is closely monitored by economists to gauge the nation’s economic health. Friday’s retail report covers a third of all consumer spending, but doesn’t include services, like hotel stays or haircuts.
The report on Friday suggests Americans were heading out last month to eat instead of shop. Sales at restaurants and bars rose 3%. But sales fell at stores that sell clothing, sporting goods and furniture.
Rouse also pointed to the example of airline ticket prices, which increased by 10% in April but were still 20% below pre-pandemic levels.
“There's going to be some choppiness,” she said.
After last Friday’s jobs report showed a lower number of jobs added to the economy than anticipated, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh echoed that sentiment in an interview with Spectrum News, saying that school reopenings and vaccinations would help get people back to work over the next few months.
“As long as we can continue to see the pandemic numbers go down and see the job numbers go up, we're gonna see our economy strengthen,” he said.