Last month, consumer confidence reached a post-pandemic peak. And the $1,400 checks in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief plan have sharply lifted consumer spending, according to Bank of America’s tracking of its debit and credit cards. Spending jumped 23% in the third week of March compared with pre-pandemic levels, the bank said.
And even with the pace of layoffs still relatively high, hiring has begun to accelerate. In February, employers added a robust 379,000 jobs across the country. Last month, they are believed to have added even more: According to the data firm FactSet, economists expect the March jobs report being released Friday to show that the economy added a sizable 614,000 jobs and that the unemployment rate fell from 6.2% to 6%. Less than a year ago, the jobless rate had hit 14.8%.
Some economists are even more optimistic: Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at the tax advisory firm RSM, is predicting 1 million added jobs for March.
The Federal Reserve’s policymakers have substantially boosted their forecast for the economy this year, anticipating growth of 6.5% for 2021, up from an estimate in December of 4.2%. That would be the fastest rate of expansion in any year since 1984.
Still, the economic impact of the pandemic lingers. The data firm Womply reports that 63% of movie theaters and other entertainment venues were closed last week, as were 39% of bars and 39% of hair salons and other beauty shops.