Economic recovery is coming along better than expected after a Wednesday announcement by the U.S. federal government revealed an increase in consumer spending in January. The bump followed three months of decline and a rough year that saw stores shut down and facing drastically reduced traffic.
Retail sales were up 5.3% in January compared to December, according to the Department of Commerce. General consumer spending was up across all sectors of consumer goods, from home goods to takeout food. The across-the-board jump in consumer spending is a good sign for the many retailers and restaurateurs who are still suffering from the coronavirus pandemic's financial pinch and is mostly a result of stimulus measures by the federal government.
The rise coincided with the disbursement of $600 stimulus checks offered by the federal government at the tail end of the Trump administration, offering a bit of relief to consumers that have dealt with drastically reduced spending power due to the pandemic. Like the first round of stimulus support from the government, the majority of stimulus money was likely spent rather quickly after being received, going towards paying down debts, catching up on bills, and of course, shopping for groceries and the occasional home good.
While grocers and many other retailers are finally receiving income on par with or beyond pre-coronavirus levels, some are still trailing. Restaurants and bars are 17% in the red compared to pre-pandemic traffic, while clothing stores are just behind at 11%, and department stores at 3%. While stimulus measures have put money back into consumers' hands, it came months after the expiration of federal unemployment benefits and the first, much larger round of stimulus checks. Because of this long wait and the considerably smaller aid package, some sectors are likely to lag as still financially insecure consumers focus on necessity spending and paying down debts.
The January surge remains a sign of things to come, signaling that consumers are more than ready to return to their neighborhood retailers but that consumers, like many retailers, are still hurting financially. The January surge may also indicate what is to come once the next round of coronavirus stimulus legislation is signed; the larger stimulus package offered by Democrats may deliver a similar yet larger bump to consumer spending if January and last year's initial stimulus package are any indications.