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Must revive services industry safely

It is not difficult to understand why so many are optimistic we have turned the corner in our fight against COVID-19. Hopeful signs are everywhere. Monday, the Institute for Supply Management reported the U.S. services sector showed record growth in March, as states ease restrictions and consumers begin to spend again.

In fact, the nonmanufacturing index rose to an all-time high 63.7 last month, with new orders also hitting a record, and both hiring and prices growing faster.

To throw a little cold water on the celebration, let’s remember the services sector has been growing for ten months, because it took such a dramatic hit last spring. As far as the ISM is concerned, services, which account for 71 percent of all jobs in the U.S., means everything from banks to bars. The number includes most of the employers that had to grind nearly to a halt about a year ago.

But now, “All the right pieces for a faster services recovery — expanded vaccine eligibility, reopenings, and historic fiscal expansion — are falling into place,” economists Oren Klachkin and Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics wrote in a research note.

Fantastic. Now let’s not mess this up. We know there are surges cycling across the country. We know there are new variants prompting more questions about our defeat of this plague. If such a recovery is to continue, we have to participate in the revival of the services sector safely. We have to spend our money and support local employers while continuing to observe all precautionary guidelines. Imagine the disappointment if, because we became complacent, our own actions caused the ISM numbers to reverse course.

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