It’s safe to say that the retail landscape as we once knew it will not recover with a COVID-19 vaccine—in fact, much of it was on the decline well before the coronavirus reached our shores, with traditional brick-and-mortar locations proving unable to keep up with the increase in online shopping. And as the pandemic imposed nationwide lockdowns and resulted in record unemployment numbers, retail was bound to be among the most impacted. After all, a lack of disposable income tends to restrict discretionary spending—and accordingly, mid-April returns showed a record 16.4 percent plunge in retail sales, even worse than initially predicted (h/t CNBC). This, after an 8.7 percent plunge in March. Totaled, that’s a 25.1 drop in retail spending since February of this year.
But let’s not confuse your president with facts—or basic math.
Amid his continued attempts to gaslight America about the devastating impacts of the coronavirus—and as Republicans continue to waffle on the second round of stimulus checks—on Tuesday, Trump was thrilled to boast about a 17.7 percent jump in retail sales in May, well over the 8 percent previously forecasted as the pandemic continues to affect the country. While the news understandably called for renewed optimism about the market at large, it conveniently overlooked the fact that given March and April’s numbers, we’re still running at a 7.4 percent deficit.
Also telling is that the administration credits the end of lockdowns with the surge—and unsurprisingly, some press outlets have followed suit. “Retail sales shattered already-lofty expectations for May as consumers freed from the coronavirus-induced lockdowns began shopping again,” CNBC crowed, also reporting that: “After being almost completely shuttered during the lockdown, food services and drinking places saw a 29.1% rebound in May. Some states began allowing outdoor dining during the month after the establishments were limited to curbside pickup and delivery.”
Sounds great...except that 29.1 percent increase is a rebound from what, exactly? And should that surge really be attributed to the end of lockdown when most blue states (and several red ones) remained under some form of stay-at-home orders through at least mid-May? Or might it also be credited to the influx of cash provided by the first round of stimulus checks that arrived between mid-April and mid-May; funds those of us lucky enough to still be employed were able to use at our discretion?
You know, the same type of funds Republicans have delayed issuing more of even as their president reportedly supports another $2 trillion stimulus package (h/t CNN)?
“The return of shoppers last month was likely aided by the $3 trillion in rescue money that the federal government has provided to companies and households,” AP News notes. “Americans’ retail purchases would need to surge by an additional 9% to return to their level before the pandemic.”
But while the administration has no problem boasting about returns, they are less eager to provide more remedial action. “[A]s I’ve already said, we’ll be looking in July to make a decision about whether to go forward with another rescue package,” Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the press on Monday. “And we’ll let you know.”
To McConnell’s credit (I can’t believe I just typed that), by July, we should also know if the recent spates of reopenings, coupled with weeks of public protests, will result in a surge of COVID-19 cases that outweigh those of the economy. So, maybe we should temper those celebrations, since as CNBC concedes, “While the monthly gains set records, the economy is still making up for lost ground.”