U.S. Economic Outlook Report: September 2021

Report summary

In August, a resurgent pandemic further undermined the U.S. economic recovery, as the Delta variant drove cases and hospitalizations up to levels not seen since January. Consumer sentiment fell sharply as hopes of nearing an end to the pandemic were dashed. While layoffs and unemployment remained stable in August, real consumer spending likely fell for the second consecutive month. Should lagging confidence derail the anticipated switch from consumer goods to service sector spending this fall, rosy forecasts for second half U.S. real GDP will likely need to be downwardly revised.

Key Takeaways

  • Morning Consult’s Index of Consumer Sentiment has fallen sharply since the beginning of July and is now at its lowest level since February 2021, as the 7-day moving average of new COVID cases reaches levels not seen since winter.
  • The increase in COVID-19 cases pushed the U.S. jobs recovery into a holding pattern. Pay and income losses stalled in August, which is better than Q3 2020 when increasing case counts led to additional layoffs.
  • A growing share of consumers struggled to pay their bills in July leading to a 3-percentage point increase in missed housing payments.

About the authors

A headshot photograph of John Leer
John Leer
Chief Economist

John Leer leads Morning Consult’s global economic research, overseeing the company’s economic data collection, validation and analysis. He is an authority on the effects of consumer preferences, expectations and experiences on purchasing patterns, prices and employment.

John continues to advance scholarship in the field of economics, recently partnering with researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland to design a new approach to measuring consumers’ inflation expectations.

This novel approach, now known as the Indirect Consumer Inflation Expectations measure, leverages Morning Consult’s high-frequency survey data to capture unique insights into consumers’ expectations for future inflation.

Prior to Morning Consult, John worked for Promontory Financial Group, offering strategic solutions to financial services firms on matters including credit risk modeling and management, corporate governance, and compliance risk management.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and philosophy with honors from Georgetown University and a master’s degree in economics and management studies (MEMS) from Humboldt University in Berlin. 

His analysis has been cited in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Washington Post, The Economist and more.

Follow him on Twitter @JohnCLeer. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected]

A headshot photograph of Kayla Bruun
Kayla Bruun
Senior Economist

Kayla Bruun is a senior economist at decision intelligence company Morning Consult, where she analyzes consumer spending, inflation and household finance trends, leveraging the company’s proprietary high-frequency data.

Prior to joining Morning Consult, Kayla was a key member of the corporate strategy team at telecommunications company SES, where she produced market intelligence and industry analysis of mobility markets. 

Kayla also served as an economist at IHS Markit, where she covered global services industries, provided price forecasts, produced written analyses and served as a subject-matter expert on client-facing consulting projects. 

Kayla earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Emory University and an MBA with a certificate in nonmarket strategy from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

Follow her on Twitter @KaylaBruun. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected]

A headshot photograph of Jesse Wheeler
Jesse Wheeler
Senior Economist

Jesse Wheeler previously worked at Morning Consult as a senior economist.