A tailor-made survey documents consumer perceptions of the U.S. economy’s response to a large shock: the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey ran at a daily frequency between March 2020 and July 2021. Consumer perceptions regarding output and inflation react rapidly. Uncertainty is pervasive. A business-cycle model calibrated to the consumer views provides an interpretation. The rise in household uncertainty amplifies the pandemic recession by a factor of three. Different perceptions about monetary policy can explain why consumers and professional forecasters agree on the recessionary impact, but have sharply divergent views about inflation.
We survey households about their expectations of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, in real time and at daily frequency. Our baseline question asks about the expected impact on output and inflation over a one-year horizon. Starting on March 10, the median response suggests that the expected output loss is still moderate. This changes over the course of three weeks: At the end of March, the expected loss amounts to some 15 percent. Meanwhile, the pandemic is expected to raise inflation considerably. The uncertainty about these effects is very large. In the second part of the paper we feed the survey data into a New Keynesian business cycle model. Because the economic costs of the pandemic have not fully materialized yet but are nonetheless (a) anticipated and (b) uncertain, private expenditure collapses, thereby amplifying and bringing forward in time the economic costs of the pandemic. The short-run economic impact of the pandemic depends critically on whether monetary policy accommodates the drop in the natural rate of interest or not.
We summarize the results from an ongoing survey that asks consumers questions related to the recent coronavirus outbreak, including their expectations for how the economy is likely to be affected by the outbreak and how their own behavior has changed in response to it. The survey began in early March, providing a window into how consumers’ responses have evolved in real time since the early days of the acknowledged spread of COVID-19 in the United States. In updating and charting the survey’s findings on the Cleveland Fed’s website going forward, we seek to inform policymakers and researchers about consumers’ beliefs during a time of high uncertainty and unprecedented policy responses.