Seeing more shoppers? Don’t confuse that with an economic rebound

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – At Dolphin Mall, festive music greets buoyant holiday shoppers like Laquan Jones, who says he was back shopping for the first time since the pandemic began.

“Have been shopping online so it feels good to be back,” Jones said.

The National Retail Federation says more than half of Americans who changed their upcoming travel plans said they will use the money they saved to buy more holiday items. Perhaps you have seen more people at stores and on our roadways.

But economists like Diane Swonk say we shouldn’t confuse an economic pick-up with a rebound.

“Even though people are seeing more people out, it is still a small fraction of what we usually see at this stage in the game,” she said.

Meyir Abotbol, who owns the Digital Universe store at Dolphin Mall says he’s feeling the impact of a drop-off in South American tourists.

“Nothing close to what it was. Very slow. No one is buying,” he said. “That was the worst Black Friday ever, since I have been here, for 15 years.”

Only 60.2% of consumers plan to shop in-store during the 2020 holiday shopping season, according to DealAid.com. That number represents a 31% drop compared to 2019, when 87% of consumers shopped in-store.

And a rise in online commerce reflects more people buying groceries, not just consumer goods.

“Context is important. Just because we have picked up from what we have seen doesn’t meet the economy is coming back,” Swonk said. “It could mean on a seasonally adjusted basis, the economy is not doing as well as one would expect.”

A 2020 Miami-Dade audit estimates the economic loss in Miami-Dade this year at $16 billion, Broward at $11 billion and Palm Beach County at $8 billion.

“The current overall economic condition in Miami-Dade County is a derivative of the regional and national decline in economic activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the audit says.

And while some in our community may have the means to splurge on holiday gifts, many others are finding it hard to pay rent and buy food.

“For the last few months, people just want to feed their children,” Abotbol said. “That’s what they want. They’re not shopping.”

OpenTable says as of Tuesday that restaurant bookings in Florida were down 41%.

Analysts say one big impact to the restaurant and catering sectors this holiday season is that all the household and corporate holiday parties — luncheons, cocktail receptions and dinners — won’t be staged this year to avoid contagion.

This as Congress still struggles to pass a new stimulus plan, with some economists saying if they don’t pass a new relief deal, it could send our economy into a double-dip recession.

“We are talking about 13 million people could fall off a fiscal cliff and have nothing as of Dec. 31,” Swonk said. “That is stunning in a U.S. economy.”

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