Beating COVID-19 still key to economic recovery

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NRF encourages shoppers to keep wearing masks

Beating COVID-19 still key to economic recovery

WASHINGTON — National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said this could be a year of record sales growth for the nation’s retailers, assuming that America is able to put COVID-19 in its rear view mirror.

“There is no doubt the economy is positioned for growth in 2021, but how much growth comes down to a single non-economic force – the coronavirus,” Kleinhenz said.  “I am optimistic about improving macroeconomic conditions as COVID-19 infections decline and distribution of vaccines becomes more widespread. Yet the road is never straight, and we have challenges ahead. The pandemic remains the largest uncertainty and the biggest risk the economy faces in 2021.”

Kleinhenz’s remarks came in the March issue of NRF’s Monthly Economic Review, which said the economy is entering its second year of strong savings, high stock values, increased home prices, enhanced government support and record-low interest rates despite the pandemic. Employment and wages are growing, and consumers have “plenty of purchasing power” that will combine with pent-up demand to provide “accelerants for growth.”

Based on those and other factors, NRF forecast last week that 2021 retail sales – excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants – will grow between 6.5 percent and 8.2 percent over 2020 to between $4.33 trillion and $4.4 trillion. That could top 2020’s growth of 6.7 percent, which broke the previous record of 6.3 percent set in 2004 despite the pandemic.

Some disease experts worry that, despite the deployment of three vaccines, the country could be facing a fourth wave of coronavirus infections as states lift restrictions and mask mandates.

“Please hear me clearly,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned on Tuesday. “At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know could stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”

The NRF on Wednesday issued a statement urging consumers to continue wearing masks when shopping in stores nationwide, and added that retailers have the right to insist on masks even in states that no longer require them.

“Retail stores are private entities,” said Bill Thorne, senior vice president of communications and public affairs at NRF. “If they require you to wear a mask in their stores, and you choose not to, that store can refuse admission or service. Retailers are private businesses, and it is within their right to implement and enforce policies that protect the health and the safety of their employees and their customers.”

Even when states and municipalities have mandated mask policies, they generally failed to provide any enforce them, Thorne points out, and instead left it to businesses to do so.

“Mandate or not, retailers are on the front lines of the pandemic, safely providing goods and services, and now vaccines, to people across the country,” he said. “This is not due to government mandates; it is because of their proven commitment to do the right thing for their employees and their neighbors in the communities they serve.”




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