The U.S. economy grew at an unrivaled pace in the third quarter as the government poured out more than $3 trillion worth of pandemic relief which fueled consumer spending, but the deep scars from the COVID-19 recession could take a year or more to heal.
Gross domestic product rebounded at a 33.1% annualized rate last quarter, the Commerce Department said in its advance estimate on Thursday. That was the fastest pace since the government started keeping records in 1947 and followed a historic shrinkage rate of 31.4% in the second quarter.
The GDP report — one of the last major economic scorecards before next week’s presidential election — will do little to mitigate the human tragedy inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic, with tens of millions Americans still unemployed and more than 222,000 dead.
With five days remaining to Election Day President Donald Trump, trailing in most national opinion polls, will probably seize on the stunning rebound in GDP as a sign of recovery. But U.S. output remains below its level in the fourth quarter of 2019, a fact Trump’s Democratic challenger Joe Biden is almost certain to highlight along with signs that the growth spurt is fast petering out.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the economy expanding at a 31% rate in the July-September quarter. The economy slipped into recession in February.
The government’s rescue package provided a lifeline for many businesses and the unemployed, juicing up consumer spending, which on its own powered the surge in GDP. But government funding has been depleted with no deal in sight for another round of relief. New COVID-19 cases are spiraling across the country, forcing restrictions on businesses like restaurants and bars.
Just over half of the 22.2 million jobs lost during the pandemic have been recouped, and layoffs persist.
A separate report from the Labor Department on Thursday showed 751,000 people filed for state unemployment benefits in the week ending Oct. 24, compared to 791,000 in the previous period. Though claims have dropped from a record 6.867 million in March, they remain above their 665,000 peak seen during the 2007-09 Great Recession.