Without question, 2020 will be remembered as the year of the coronavirus. The public health crisis and resultant economic calamity have had wide ranging implications throughout the whole of society.
The encouraging trajectory of the U.S. economy as the year dawned was abruptly reversed, and a solid and lengthy expansion was halted as huge swaths of the business complex were severely curtailed or shuttered. Perhaps the most striking feature of the nosedive was its unevenness.
The pandemic has impacted individuals and families in vastly different ways. Some have faced unemployment or reduced hours. Others in health care and essential jobs have both labored more than usual and faced increased risk. Many have transitioned to working and schooling from home.
Some industries are struggling to survive, while others are experiencing steady or even soaring demand.
Airlines, hotels, and other travel businesses, restaurants and bars, and many types of firms have been devastated, while some have seen explosive growth (such as online retailers and delivery services).
Energy was jolted, with oil prices plunging due to collapsing demand paired with a surplus of oil (which has been particularly challenging for the Texas economy). Small businesses struggled, while the tech giants propelled the stock market to new heights.
States have had vastly varying reactions and approaches to dealing with the pandemic, for better or worse. Disparities between rural areas with limited health resources and major urban centers have contributed to a wide range of experiences during this tumultuous season.
No one has gone untouched by the pandemic, but COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted low income and racial and ethnic minority communities. From limited resources and inadequate access to health care and broadband to a greater likelihood of working in higher-exposure essential jobs or those lost during shutdowns, these segments have been hit especially hard.
Other 2020 events with potential long-term economic effects include the presidential election and its accompanying sharp polarization, which was particularly problematic during a time when the nation needed to come together.
On a brighter note, the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement went into effect in July and will enhance activity across North America with improvements to digital and agricultural trade regulations, intellectual property protection, and labor and environmental standards.
In more normal times, that might well have been the biggest economic story of the year.
This year has been unprecedented, and its legacy will be scrutinized for decades to come.
One thing that is already apparent, however, is that the pandemic’s effects have been particularly burdensome for some regions, population groups, and industries. It will take concerted and ongoing efforts to deal with the continuing fallout, but I have every expectation that we will emerge stronger and more resilient.
M. Ray Perryman, Ph.D., is president and chief executive officer of The Perryman Group (www.perrymangroup.com), which has served the needs of over 2,500 clients over the past four decades.