The devil is in the details when it comes to rising retail sales

Retail sales rose 0.6% last month, the Commerce Department says. That’s less than the previous month. Things are slowing down, and it’s another sign the economic bounceback is itself slowing down.

If you don’t have more money, you’re probably not going to spend more money. 

“This all reflects the fact [that] at the end of July, the supplemental unemployment benefits were ended — the extra $600 people were getting,” said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree. 

Less pandemic relief money in unemployed people’s pockets slowed down spending growth. Still, from afar, the retail segment as a whole has made a pretty strong recovery.  

“Sales as of August are higher than they were heading into the pandemic in February,” said James Bohnaker, associate director with IHS Markit.

But if you look into the details, it’s chaos and carnage. Online sales are up 22% year-over-year, restaurant sales are still down 15%. Building materials up 15%, clothing’s still down 20%. 

One thing that’s going on here is Americans trapped at home have moved some of their spending around. 

“There is a switch from services consumption, which makes up the bulk of our consumption to goods consumption,” said Constance Hunter, chief economist at KPMG.

People might not be going to the dentist, but might buy a bike.

“It’s one of the reasons we’ve seen manufacturing rebound more than we would have normally expected in a normal recession,” Hunter said.

But as time goes on, we’re going to start going back to the dentist, and we won’t need another bike.

“It’s one of the reasons we think we’ll see a bit of a plateau in retail sales as we go into the fourth quarter, as the economy continues to open and we see people begin to purchase those services again,” Hunter said.

People will buy services at the expense of goods. One sign we’re headed there is actually buried in the restaurant data — restaurant sales growth accelerated in August. It may be a sign that people are getting more and more comfortable going out, at least for now.

What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

It’s been weeks since President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum that was supposed to get the federal government back into the business of topping up unemployment benefits, to $400 a week. Few states, however, are currently paying even part of the benefit that the president promised. And, it looks like, in most states, the maximum additional benefit unemployment recipients will be able to get is $300.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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