US economy suffers sharpest downturn since 1940s

US President Donald Trump.
US President Donald Trump.
Getty Images

The US economy suffered its sharpest downturn since at least the 1940s in the second quarter, highlighting how the pandemic has ravaged businesses across the country and left millions of Americans out of work.

Gross domestic product shrank at a 32.9% annualised pace in the second quarter from the first, the most in quarterly records dating back to 1947, the Commerce Department’s initial estimate showed on Thursday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 34.5% slump.

The figures lay bare the extent of the economic devastation that resulted from the government-ordered shutdowns and stay-at-home orders designed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that abruptly brought a halt to the longest-running expansion. While employment, spending and production have improved since reopenings picked up in May and massive federal stimulus reached Americans, a recent surge in infections has tempered the pace of the recovery.

That surge, the result of America’s failure to contain the virus, indicates that the US economy is likely to recover more slowly than places that have done a better job, such as the euro area. And the longer the pandemic lasts without a vaccine, the longer economic output will remain below pre-crisis levels, leaving permanent scars on many businesses and workers.

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