As 2021’s last quarter approaches, some key economic data are smiling on the country.1 Estimates for real GDP growth for the second quarter are hitting 6.6 percent.2 Indeed, the pace of growth has now completely lifted the economy out of the pandemic hole that developed in 2020. The country is where it was when the pandemic-generated collapse started, at least as measured by GDP. Even better, and as shown in table 1, three major estimates suggest that the year’s last quarter will be okay, but 2022 prospects are considerably dimmer. As to be expected, the effects of massive stimulus spending do eventually wear out.
Other major prosperity indicators are not glowing so brightly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) July payroll survey, total employment in July was still 5.7 million below the February 2020 prepandemic level.3 The BLS also reports in its July household survey that “5.2 million persons reported that they had been unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic.”
Activity measured by industrial production is still lagging. Pro-duction for June was up 9.8 percent year-over-year but still 1.2 percent less than before the pandemic.5 And the hard-hit services sector, now spinning wheels as it moves forward, is still not where it was when the pandemic hit. July services employment stood at 104.3 million, as compared to February 2020’s 108.5 million.6 Adding another piece of negative news, all inflation measures that matter show that the price level is on an upward run; there is something like 3.2 percent inflation embedded in the economy.