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When Will the U.S. Economy Return to Normal?

By Matthew Frankel, CFP® and Brian Withers - Feb 11, 2021 at 7:11AM

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The COVID-19 pandemic will likely come to an end in 2021, but that doesn't mean normal life will return right away.

Now that COVID-19 vaccines are available and distribution is ramping up, it's likely that we'll see the virus numbers start to steadily decline. But just because the pandemic will likely wind down in 2021 doesn't mean we'll return to normal life immediately. In this Fool Live video clip, recorded on Jan. 28, contributors Matt Frankel, CFP, and Brian Withers discuss when pre-pandemic normality in the United States could actually return. 

Matt Frankel: I think of the reopening or the end of the pandemic in three different tiers. First is the availability of a vaccine, which is where we're at now. There were points in 2020 when people didn't know if the pandemic was going to end. If science couldn't come up with an effective vaccine and it was something you can get year after year after year like the flu, there was no end in sight to the pandemic at some points.

Now we know that the pandemic is going to end; that's what the vaccine does. Stage 2 is when the vaccine is widely available, like when Brian can just leave his house and go get it if he wants to. We're still a few months away from that. Once we actually start to have widespread availability and get herd immunity, that'll be Stage 2, because then you'll really start to see the numbers going down.

Stage 3 is when the economy actually comes back like Brian was just talking about, which, depending on the industry and how affected it's been could take well into 2022. The hotel industry, I don't foresee that recovery till well in 2022 to this year's levels. Certain aspects of tourism, especially in places like New York City. Empire State Building [part of Empire State Realty Trust] (ESRT 1.53%) said the observatory is not going to get to pre-COVID traffic levels till 2022 or later. That would be Stage 3. I don't think you've seen the recovery really play out too much yet. I think we're still in Stage 1 of those three.

Brian Withers: Yeah. I think you have a great point there. Stage 3, if I'm a hotel owner or a restaurant owner, I'm going to add staff only after I see a consistent level of repeat business and customers coming in the door day after day. I've paid all of my cleaners; they're all working overtime before I hire somebody else to help with the business. So yeah, I think it'll take a while.

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