US economy unlikely to recover as rapidly as it collapsed

BALTIMORE (AP) — President Donald Trump has been telling voters that the U.S. economy will leap back to life “like a rocket,” stronger than ever after its bout with the coronavirus.

But there is a reason economics is called the “dismal science.” There are emerging signs that any recovery will fail to match the speed and severity of the economic collapse that occurred in just a few weeks. The 2020 presidential and Senate elections likely will take place as the world’s largest economy is still attempting to climb back from the deadly outbreak.

“Anyone who assumes we’re going to get a sharp snapback in activity isn’t thinking about how consumers are going to feel. They’re going to be very cautious,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Markit. “Households and businesses have seen their finances deteriorate. People are buying groceries on their credit cards.”

To understand the consequences of a sudden negative shock on the economy, Behravesh studied how many people returned to flying after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“It took two and a half years for airline passenger traffic to go back to previous levels,” he said.

No longer able to campaign on a half-century low unemployment rate, Trump has begun to tell voters that he can quickly rebuild the economy. He said measures like the $2.2 trillion rescue package — with more money likely on the way — can send employment and economic growth to new highs.

Jefrey Pollock, a Democratic pollster, said voters will judge in November whether the Republican president has delivered an economic revival, and they will be taking a similar measure of incumbent members of Congress.

“The fact that we’re as partisan as ever doesn’t mean we’re destined to forgive a president who fails on the economy,” Pollock said. “This is a man who championed his economic abilities — and to me there is nothing to suggest that voters will forgive him, since he’s been front and center on the virus response since Day One.”

If his view holds, that plays to the advantage of likely Democratic nominee Joe Biden. But Biden will have to give voters a fuller idea of how he would boost the economy, Pollock said.

Trump has repeatedly sought to portray the situation as the U.S. economy being sideswiped by the “hidden enemy” of COVID-19, which he and his advisers initially downplayed in February and March and later suggested was impossible to foresee. His message to voters is that his leadership will make the economy even stronger.