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The coronavirus pandemic has done a number on the U.S. economy. Not only has it cost millions of Americans their jobs, but it's forced thousands of small businesses to permanently shut down, thereby hurting communities and contributing to the general unemployment crisis. And while both the stock market and housing market have performed well this year, the general economy is still worlds away from a complete recovery.
But will things get better in 2021? Without a crystal ball, it's impossible to tell. Right now, COVID-19 cases are still popping up at an alarming rate, and hospital systems throughout the country are finding themselves overwhelmed. Meanwhile, counties around the nation are imposing restrictions in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus, and while those may help from a public health perspective, from an economic one, they can be devastating.
There's some good news, however. First, there are a number of promising coronavirus vaccines in the pipeline that may be available to the general public as early as April 2021. If enough people get vaccinated, it could help quell the outbreak. Second, though the jobless rate is still high, it's been dropping steadily since peaking in April. And if that trend continues, more jobs could open up in the coming year.
Still, we can't count on the economy staging a full recovery in 2021 -- especially not in the first part of the year. Even if lawmakers pass a stimulus bill in the coming weeks (which is something we shouldn't count on, seeing as how long they've battled over one), it's hard to know how helpful or effective it will be.
But one thing we do know is that the start of 2021 is likely to be the same rocky continuation of 2020, and while there's reason to think things will improve, that could take months. As such, here are a few moves to make in case the economy doesn't end up looking much better by the end of next year.
1. Boost your emergency fund
Hopefully, jobs will become more plentiful in the coming year, not less. But you never know what impact the recession will have, so a good bet is to boost your emergency fund if you have spare cash in your current paychecks. In fact, at a minimum, you should aim for three months' worth of living expenses in savings, but if you can do better, you'll buy yourself even more protection in light of the economic uncertainty that abounds.
2. Stay out of debt
Debt can be dangerous at any time, but if you lose your job or see your income take a hit, it could be catastrophic. Unless a true emergency arises that your income and savings can't cover, make it a point to avoid debt until the economy is more stable. (Even then, you're best avoiding it, but let's face it -- debt is a part of life for a lot of people.)
3. Secure a side job
Given the way the coronavirus has been spreading, now may not be the best time to go out and sign up to work the cash register at your local supermarket or wait tables at a nearby restaurant. But if you're able to find a secondary gig to do on the side from the comfort of home, or in a manner that's not hazardous to your health, you'll buy yourself some financial security as we head into an iffy time. Say you're able to work as a web developer from home a few nights a week or walk other people's dogs while they're out of town. If your hours at your main job are cut in the new year, you'll have your side gig to fall back on. And having that income stream at your disposal could also help you build a healthier savings account balance while steering clear of debt.
What's in store for 2021?
There's reason to believe the economy will improve in 2021, but whether it will recover fully is the big question. Much will depend on how well the pandemic is managed and what aid, if any, is finally delivered to the American public in the form of a relief bill. While it's always good to hope for the best, it's important to be realistic about the fact that the U.S. economy's recovery may be prolonged. Prepare for that possibility so you can minimize your own financial stress during what's apt to be another interesting year.