Despite the expiration of the weekly supplement to unemployment benefits at the end of July, U.S. consumer spending continued to bounce back in September. According to preliminary estimates published by the U.S. Census Bureau, seasonally adjusted retail and food services sales amounted to $549.3 billion last month, up 33 percent from their April low and 5.2 percent from the same period last year.
While the ongoing bounceback in consumer spending is certainly encouraging, it needs to be noted that the recovery has been uneven and that spending levels are still below pre-crisis levels for many retailers.
As the following chart shows, clothing and accessories stores have been badly impacted by the pandemic, with sales in the first nine months of 2020 down more than 30 percent compared to the same period of 2019. Food services and drinking places have suffered a similar fate, with spending levels 20 percent off last year’s total, while department stores and electronics stores are also trailing 2019 sales by more than 15 percent through three quarters of 2020.
At the other end of the spectrum, nonstore retailers, building material and garden dealers as well as grocery stores have seen double-digit growth rates in the first nine months of 2020, as consumers shifted much of their spending online and outdoor activities boomed in face of the COVID-19 threat.