The United States has recently ended its public health emergency, which has allowed for the lifting of some of the policies put in place to address the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. While COVID-19 remains a public health threat, the U.S. is starting to see a return to its pre-pandemic economic growth rate. Economists credit federal legislation such as the CARES Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and the American Relief Plan Act for helping to accelerate the recovery. However, there are concerns about the pandemic’s lasting impact on the workforce and the preparedness of policymakers for potential future crises.
Elise Gould, the senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, praises policymakers for their response to the crisis. She cites the child tax credit as an example of how federal investments have fueled a strong economic recovery. However, there are concerns about how to reach the most vulnerable populations and address sectors such as healthcare that are still struggling. There are also unknowns about the pandemic’s long-term impact on the workforce.
Lindsay Owens, the executive director of Groundwork Collaborative, urges lawmakers to focus on providing direct assistance to workers during future crises. Duke University economist Connell Frenkamp suggests that stimulus packages could have been more targeted. For example, the Small Business Administration found that at least 70,000 of the Paycheck Protection Program loans were fraudulent.
Economists also suggest that lessons learned from the federal response to the pandemic can help prepare for future crises. They emphasize the need to strengthen wages for “frontline” or “essential” workers before the next pandemic and to address issues such as the shortage of childcare workers. They also stress the importance of ensuring that unemployment insurance, SNAP, and Medicaid can quickly cover as many people as possible in any future recession.
Greater workplace flexibility could be a crucial factor in retaining women in the workforce, according to Lauren Bauer, an economic research fellow at the Brookings Institution. She notes that nine million men lost their jobs early in the pandemic, but 11.5 million women lost their jobs, with many quitting their jobs to take care of their children.
Overall, economists believe that the U.S. has made significant progress in its recovery from the pandemic. However, policymakers must remain vigilant and prepare for potential future crises with effective, targeted responses.