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Retail Recovery Limbo

Please consider recovery in limbo as retail traffic falls.

U.S. states that have driven a record surge in coronavirus cases may now be slipping backward here in their economic recovery, as cellphone data shows retail visits in a clutch of high case-growth locations falling below the rest of the country.

In Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, which had edged ahead of other states during their drive in May to reopen commerce, retail foot traffic has slipped below levels elsewhere, information from data firm Unacast showed.

The data, which covers the period through July 3, is not representative of retail sales. But it does highlight the dilemma many economists and health experts have raised from the earliest days of the outbreak of novel coronavirus: Inattention to health protocols like wearing of masks and social distancing combined with a rush to reopen businesses could lead to worse outcomes for both public health and the economy.

“A mismanaged health crisis across many states means short-term gains will transform into medium-term sluggishness as social distancing relaxation is reversed and virus fear lingers,” Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, wrote in an analysis on Thursday. “It’s now evident that the economy is entering Q3 (third quarter) with much less momentum than previously anticipated.

Nationally, cellphone tracking data from both Unacast here and Safegraph here showed retail visits were stalled or falling. Time management firm Homebase here showed employment among its small business clients hit a plateau, while clients of Kronos here which manages employee time across a larger swath of industries, showed a drop in shifts.

Sales are slowing and the recovery in jobs may have too, based on unemployment claims. 

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For discussion, please see State Claims Decline But All Unemployment Claims Are on the Rise