The Corner

Economy & Business

The Pandemic Is Obliterating Consumer Spending

A health worker sprays disinfectant inside a Vietnam Airlines plane to protect against the recent coronavirus outbreak at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 21, 2020. (Kham/Reuters)

There’s a new paper on that topic via the National Bureau of Economic Research today. The results are not exactly shocking, but they highlight the parts of the economy you might want to help with your coming coronavirus checks.

The paper relies on data from a nonprofit “fintech” company that helps people save, and the researchers had access to (anonymized) data on the transactions in these folks’ checking, savings, and credit-card accounts. There was a period last month when they stocked up on certain items and spending went up, but after that spending plummeted, especially on air travel and restaurants.

Here’s how different areas of spending changed as everyone locked down for real. Note that what this chart calls the “percentage” change is actually the fraction change, so “-.2” means a decline of 20 percent — and that the spending decline probably had not bottomed out in this period, which ended more than a week ago.

Overall credit-card spending, after a spike, seems to be far below where it was earlier this year, too:

As I wrote on the homepage this morning, it is very urgent that we keep the affected businesses solvent and connected with their employees.