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Analysts warn economy needs help now

ap photo House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., accompanied by Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., left, and Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., right, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington Friday on the extension of federal unemployment benefits.

WASHINGTON — As Congress and the White House resume their efforts to agree on a new economic aid package, evidence is growing that the U.S. economy is faltering. And so is concern that the government may not take the steps needed to support hiring and growth.

“We’re in a pretty fragile state again,” warned Nancy Vanden Houten, lead economist at Oxford Economics, a consulting firm. “The economy needs another shot in the arm.”

With unemployment still at a high 11.1 percent and hiring potentially slowing in July, the economy is likely to weaken further without more government aid, economists say. Few agree with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow’s assertion on Sunday that the nation is on a V-shaped recovery path, in which the sharp recession that began in February would be followed by a quick rebound.

What’s needed, most economists say, is continued extra aid for tens of millions of unemployed Americans, along with more funding for state and local governments and more grants for struggling small companies, many of which could go out of business.

Yet even with the viral outbreak intensifying and nearly half of Americans whose families have endured a layoff saying they fear those jobs are lost forever, Congress isn’t anywhere close to agreeing on the outlines of a package even as a $600-a-week federal payment to the unemployed has expired.

The debate coincides with worrisome signs about the job market and the economy. The number of laid-off workers who have applied for unemployment benefits has topped 1 million every week for 18 straight weeks. Before the pandemic, that figure never exceeded 700,000. Real-time data shows that Americans’ visits to shops and restaurants have leveled off after having grown in May and June. Air travel fell last week compared with the week before.

As Congress struggles to reach a compromise on a new financial rescue plan, the main sticking point is the supplemental federal unemployment aid, which provides $600 a week on top of whatever benefit each state provides.

The White House wants to replace the enhanced benefit with a payment that would vary by state but would combine with a state unemployment benefit to replace 70 percent of recipients’ previous income, likely with some cap for high-income earners. On average, state benefits are equivalent to 45 percent of workers’ former incomes.

Senate Republicans favor reducing the $600 to a flat payment of $200, possibly as a bridge to a 70 percent replacement system. The flat payment had been adopted in March because most states’ unemployment systems use antiquated software that cannot adjust individual payments using a percentage formula.

The Democratic-led House has already approved legislation that would extend the $600 through January.

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