Meh Economy? Americans Aren’t Sure What to Make of the Recovery

If there’s a single word that captures how Americans feel about their economy as the second pandemic summer draws to a close, it could conceivably be: “meh.”

In the two years before Covid-19 struck, U.S. consumers reckoned they had things pretty good. For about a year starting from March 2020, they knew a bad economy when they saw one.

But for several months now, polling data suggest the public isn’t quite sure what to make of the recovery -– with a roughly even split between positive and negative views.

By global standards, the U.S. has bounced back fast. But as data on the recovery continue to pour in, there’s plenty to support the suspicion that the glass is still half-empty.

Consumer sentiment fell in early August to the lowest level in nearly a decade by one measure and U.S. retail sales fell in July by more than forecast.

The following charts help explain why Americans still aren’t clear how impressed they should be.

Jobs Are Coming Back...

The economy has been creating jobs at a rapid clip. Employment has risen by an average of about 617,000 people per month so far this year.

While the total number of Americans who are working is still more than 5 million short of 2019 levels, there is work available. The number of open positions surged to a record 10 million-plus in June.

...But the Labor Force Has Shrunk

Many employers say they’re having trouble filling those jobs, even with the unemployment rate still relatively high.

That points to one big question-mark around the recovery. Whether it’s because of early retirements, difficulties finding child care or mental-health problems, many Americans have dropped out of the labor force.