Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell expressed optimism Sunday that the U.S. economy can begin to recover from a devastating recession in the second half of the year, assuming the coronavirus doesn’t erupt in a second wave. But he suggested that a full recovery won’t likely be possible before the arrival of a vaccine. In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Powell noted that the economy was fundamentally healthy before the virus struck suddenly and forced widespread business shutdowns and tens of millions of layoffs. Once the outbreak has been contained, he said, the economy should be able to rebound “substantially.”
Powell offered an overall positive message while warning that it would take much longer for the economy to regain its health than it took for it to collapse with stunning speed. “In the long run, and even in the medium run,” the chairman said, “you wouldn’t want to bet against the American economy. This economy will recover. And that means people will go back to work. Unemployment will get back down. We’ll get through this.”
Powell pointed out that the downturn wasn’t a result of deep-seated financial instabilities, like the housing meltdown and the excessive risk-taking among banks that ignited the Great Recession. Rather, it resulted from an external event — a pandemic — that required a shutdown of the economy. That may mean, he said, that “we can get back to a healthy economy fairly quickly.” In the meantime, though, American workers are enduring their worst crisis in decades. More than 36 million people have applied for unemployment benefits in the two months since the coronavirus first forced businesses to close down and shrink their workforces. The unemployment rate, at 14.7%, is the highest since the Great Depression, and is widely expected to go much higher.