economy

Retail sales stalled in April as Americans ventured out more to bars and restaurants but spent less on things such as clothes or sporting goods.

Data from the Commerce Department on Friday showed retail sales were flat in April from a month earlier.

That's less than the 1% economists had forecast, but the number is still strong given the high level of spending seen in March, which was revised up to show a 10.7% surge in spending compared with the 9.8% increase initially announced.

The idea of giving Americans cash without conditions once seemed radical. But the pandemic has changed that.

The spotlight on income inequality has pushed the concept of a guaranteed income into the mainstream. In recent months, nearly two dozen American cities have signed on. Los Angeles may soon become the largest U.S. city to try it. It's considering a plan to provide $1,000 a month to at least 1,000 households.

You may have already noticed it, but yes, many things you need or love have gotten more expensive, a lot more expensive.

Consumer prices surged 4.2% in April from the depressed levels of a year earlier when the global economy was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Labor Department on Wednesday.

That was the largest 12-month increase since a 4.9% one in September 2008 in the depths of the global financial crisis, the Labor Department added.

Prices rose 0.8% on a monthly basis.

Updated May 7, 2021 at 1:18 PM ET

Hiring unexpectedly slowed last month as businesses struggled to keep pace with booming demand from newly vaccinated customers.

U.S. employers added just 266,000 jobs in April, according to a monthly snapshot from the Labor Department. It was the weakest month of job growth since January.

Beverly Pickering says her neighbors in suburban Detroit are hitting the road. And that's good news for her pet sitting business.

"I have people going to California, Florida, the Carolinas — all over the country," she said. "It's travel, travel, travel. It's just exploded."

Editor's note: This is an excerpt of Planet Money's newsletter. You can sign up here.

Updated April 29, 2021 at 8:43 AM ET

The U.S. economy expanded at a rapid pace in the first three months of the year, setting the stage for what's expected to be the strongest annual growth in nearly four decades.

The United States may just become the engine of global economic growth this year, according to a new forecast released Tuesday by the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF expects the U.S. economy will grow 6.4% this year, its strongest growth in decades. That's faster than the 5.1% growth it was projecting just two months ago and nearly double the growth rate it predicted in October.

Updated April 2, 2021 at 12:34 PM ET

Hiring accelerated last month as U.S. employers added 916,000 workers to their payrolls. It was the largest job gain since August, fueled in part by an improving public health outlook and a new round of $1,400 relief payments.

President Biden cheered the encouraging jobs report during remarks to reporters at the White House.

Updated March 29, 2021 at 11:09 AM ET

Before the grounding of the massive Ever Given container ship in the Suez Canal, some 50 vessels a day, or about 10% of global trade, sailed through the waterway each day — everything from consumer electronics to food, chemicals, ore and petroleum.

A year after the pandemic plunged the U.S. economy into it worst crisis since the Great Depression, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is largely satisfied with the central bank's rapid-fire response.

"I liken it to Dunkirk," Powell said in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition, referring to the emergency rescue of British and Allied forces from France in World War II. "It was time to get in the boats and get the people, not to check the inspection records and things like that. Just get in the boats and go."

Steve Inskeep: Jerome Powell is on the line. He is the chair of the Federal Reserve Board charged with helping to manage the world's largest economy. One year ago, the Fed was effectively printing enormous amounts of money, unprecedented amounts, creating trillions of dollars to help avoid economic collapse in the early stages of the pandemic. Now things look different and the Fed recently upgraded its economic forecast. Jay Powell rarely does interviews, but has continued a trend at the Fed toward greater transparency. And he's back on the program. Mr. Powell, welcome.

BEIJING — The clothing brand H&M has come under a sudden, intense storm of criticism in China over a statement it made more than half a year ago, where it distanced itself from cotton sourced from China's Xinjiang region.

Major online retailers in China have pulled H&M products from their sites or mobile apps. Two Chinese celebrities have already severed deals with the Swedish brand. Chinese state media outlets are now calling out other Western clothing brands — including Nike, New Balance and Burberry — for not using Xinjiang cotton.

Consumers put their pocketbooks on ice last month after a spending spree in January.

Retail sales fell 3% in February, according to the Commerce Department. That's the sharpest decline since the early months of the pandemic, and a much steeper drop than economists had expected.

Women and people of color are notoriously underrepresented in economics. Only 14% of full professors are women, and one survey found only 1.6% Black faculty in the economics departments of the 30 highest-ranked universities.

Hiring picked up steam in February as a winter wave of coronavirus infections eased and consumers spent more freely.

U.S. employers added 379,000 jobs in February, while the unemployment rate dipped to 6.2%.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned on Tuesday the United States has a "long way" to go to return to full employment, even as he expressed cautious optimism that the economy will recover from the pandemic this year.

As it turns out, January was for shopping.

Retail spending soared 5.3% last month compared to December, much more than anticipated, as U.S. families began receiving new federal coronavirus relief checks.

People bought more across the board last month, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday: furniture, electronics, clothes, sports equipment, restaurant food, groceries.

At a time when millions of Americans are unemployed, businessman Bill Martin has a head-scratching problem: He's got plenty of jobs but few people willing to take them.

"I keep hearing about all the unemployed people," Martin says. "I certainly can't find any of those folks."

Martin helps run M.A. Industries, a plastics manufacturing company in Peachtree City, Ga. The company makes products used in the medical industry — specifically, in things like coronavirus tests and vaccine manufacturing and development.

Updated at 9 a.m. ET

Hiring resumed just tepidly last month after a slump in December, as the labor market faces a long climb to recover the millions of jobs lost during the pandemic.

U.S. employers added 49,000 jobs in January, after a revised drop of 227,000 the month before. Unemployment fell to 6.3%, from 6.7% in December, as hundreds of thousands of people left the workforce.

Industries that saw notable job gains in January include business and professional services and finance, but bars and restaurants continued to lose jobs.

Updated at 1:12 p.m. ET

The nation's economic engine slowed considerably in recent months, as it faced off against a winter wave of coronavirus infections.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the nation's gross domestic product grew just under 1% in October, November and December — a marked downshift from the three previous months. On an annualized basis, the economy grew 4% in the fourth quarter.

The resurgence in the pandemic likely dealt a major blow to the U.S. economy in the last three months of the year, though it is not expected to have delivered a knockout punch.

Most economists expect fourth-quarter gross domestic product data on Thursday will show a significant slowdown compared to the July to September quarter, when the economy staged a sharp recovery from the early days of the pandemic.

Janet Yellen, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Treasury Department, made the case for aggressive economic relief, urging lawmakers to "act big" to fight the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

At her confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee, Yellen pressed lawmakers to pass the $1.9 trillion spending package that the incoming administration has proposed to keep families and businesses afloat as well as to accelerate vaccinations against COVID-19.

Updated at 12:30 p.m. ET

Restaurants and bars are reeling from persistent spikes of coronavirus cases and related restrictions in their communities, driving retail spending in December down for the third month in a row.

Updated at 11:11 a.m. ET

U.S. retail spending declined the most since a historic plunge in April as new coronavirus surges restricted outings to stores and restaurants.

Retail sales dipped 1.1% in November compared with a month earlier, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

However, retail spending — excluding food service — was still up 7.1% when compared with a year earlier, in part thanks to record-setting Black Friday and Cyber Monday online shopping sprees.

Congress still hasn't reached a deal on a new COVID-19 relief package to help millions of Americans who could fall off an economic cliff by the end of the year when moratoriums on evictions and some unemployment benefits are set to expire. But whether or not Congress agrees on an additional aide package during the lame-duck session, Joe Biden will still inherit a fragile economy and a possibly uncooperative Congress, which raises questions about what — if anything — the next president can do on his own to bolster an economic recovery.

China's economy is roaring back as Americans gobble up everything from its cellphones to its health masks, raising the stakes for trade relations with the United States as President-elect Joe Biden gets set to take over.

Data on Monday showed China notched a record $75.4 billion trade surplus in November after exports from China to the rest of the world jumped 21.1% compared to a year ago.

Updated at 9:24 a.m. ET

U.S. employers sharply scaled back their hiring last month as the coronavirus pandemic put new pressure on restaurants, retailers and other businesses.

The Labor Department said Friday that employers added just 245,000 jobs in November, down from a revised 610,000 in October.

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New coronavirus vaccines will help the world's economy bounce back in 2021, but the gains will depend on how the vaccines are distributed, among other factors, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says.

In its new projection, the group says global GDP should rise by 4.2% next year, after falling 4.2% in 2020.

Updated at 3:37 p.m. ET

With confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalizations spiking and the nation's job market struggling to pull itself out of the abyss caused by the pandemic, President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday formally announced the advisers who he hopes can guide the United States back to solid economic footing.

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