kohl's empty parking lot

While the talk has turned to opening the economy back up in areas that have skirted the worst of the COVID-19 crisis, the shutdown is still adding to the unemployment rolls.  

Another 3.8 million people filed for initial jobless benefits last week, bringing the total since mid-March to more than 30 million

Many retailers have contributed to the grim total by furloughing workers to conserve cash during the shutdown, which caused first-quarter GDP to shrink by 4.8 percent — even though the three-month period included only a few weeks of real disruption. 

The question for the economy and the prospects for consumer spending is how many of those people who have been sent home actually make it back to work.

As it is, even strong companies have proven to be ill-prepared to for the shutdown. While some are looking now to new market share opportunities or acquisitions, there is also a wave of bankruptcies and business cutbacks building that could help keep the economic pressure on. 

Washington has tried to step in to lessen the pain and Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said the central bank would continue to take aggressive actions to support the economy.

“The next phases are more uncertain, highly uncertain, but we will go through a phase starting fairly soon where we begin to reopen the economy, and probably the economic activity will pick up, as consumer spending picks up,” Powell said. “Consumer spending has gone down quite a lot. It will begin to pick up as people start to return to their normal patterns of spending.”

Normal, though, still seems a long way off.

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