The U.S. economic recovery is accelerating as stimulus money, Covid-19 vaccinations and business re-openings spur a spring surge in consumer spending, a sharp pullback in layoffs and a bounceback in factory output.
Retail sales—a measure of purchases at stores, at restaurants and online—jumped 9.8% in March, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The gain in consumer spending—the biggest driver of economic activity—came as the government began distributing hundreds of billions of dollars of stimulus funds to households. It was the largest monthly gain since last May, during the initial recovery from lockdowns early in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Separately, nearly 200,000 fewer workers filed for initial unemployment benefits last week. Jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, fell to 576,000 last week from 769,000 a week earlier, the Labor Department said. While claims are still above levels that prevailed early last year, last week’s figure was the lowest since March 2020. The total number of people receiving benefits also fell across a range of state and federal pandemic-related programs.
The government also reported Thursday that industrial production—a measure of factory, mining and utility output—rebounded in March after a decline in February. Factory output, which rose 2.7% over the month, helped drive the gain.
The economic readings taken together reflect “people going back to work, people seeing more income, people spending. This is a good story about the American economy’s resilience,” said Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM.