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May 30, 2020

US spending, virus cases after reopenings cloud outlook

World

May 30, 2020

WASHINGTON: Plummeting US consumer spending and rising coronavirus cases in some parts of the country that are reopening businesses highlighted Friday the rough road ahead for a hoped-for economic rebound during the pandemic, foreign media reported.

The bad economic news was echoed in Europe, where an extensive social welfare net was showing signs of fraying, as protests erupted for a second day in Spain against layoffs by French carmaker Renault and Italy’s chief central banker warned that “uncertainty is rife.”

New US Commerce Department statistics showed a record-shattering 13.6% drop in spending in April, a day after a federal jobs report showed another 2 million-plus Americans went out of work last week. The depth of the spending drop is particularly damaging because consumer spending is the primary driver of the economy.

While some US states were moving ahead with steps to reopen businesses and leisure activities needed to spur spending and restore jobs, some were finding relaxed safety measures have been followed by upticks in new cases.

Arkansas over the past week has seen a steady rise in its active coronavirus cases, following moves by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to reopen businesses shuttered during the pandemic.

Health officials on Thursday announced the number of cases, excluding people who have recovered or died, hit a new high of 1,830 in the state. which has had a total of 6,538 cases. Arkansas also hit a record for a one-day increase in infections in the community, meaning ones that don’t include the incarcerated.

“We’re not going to go back, but we want people to follow those guidelines, make sure they do everything they can to avoid the spread and we can get through this,” Hutchinson said.

However, a rural northern California county decided to temporarily rescind its order allowing reopening of restaurants, shopping and other services after its first coronavirus cases developed.

Lassen County had no reported coronavirus cases until May 22, when state data showed it was one of only two California counties with zero cases. But as of Wednesday, the county of 30,000 people had reported five known cases. Lassen County had started reopening businesses under state rules on May 11.

Friday’s US Commerce Department figures showed that consumers are unable or reluctant to spend, even as incomes soared 10.5% in April, reflecting billions of dollars in government payments in the form of unemployment aid and stimulus checks.

However, wages and salaries — normally the key component of overall income — sank by an annualized $740 billion in April. By contrast, income in the form of government support jumped by an annualized $3 trillion. That form of income will likely fade in coming months as government aid programs expire.