US spending patterns have changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic

Jason Furman (PIIE) and Wilson Powell III (Harvard Kennedy School)

June 9, 2021
US spending patterns have changed dramatically since the start of the pandemic

US consumer spending had nearly returned to its pre-pandemic trend by April 2021, but this conceals massive variations in the pattern of spending, with spending on goods above trend and spending on services below trend.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) provides estimates of consumption in 364 categories and subcategories. Of these, spending in April was the furthest above its pre-pandemic trend for net transactions in used automobiles; commissions on stock trades; and food, housing, and other relief services. The bottom three performers were medical spending in the United States by foreign residents, international travel by US residents, and movie theaters. Note that some of these categories are quite small and by themselves are not macroeconomically consequential (e.g., medical spending by foreigners was only about $1 billion per year before the pandemic), but together they are illustrative of the large change in spending patterns to date—and likely large ones that are ongoing.

For more on US consumer spending, read Jason Furman and Wilson Powell III’s blog post, “Follow the trend: US demand is back, supply is lagging, but both are likely to grow in coming months.”

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Jason Furman Senior Research Staff
Wilson Powell III Former Research Staff

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