A major economic problem: Rich people have stopped going out

First up, consumer spending. Typically, Chetty said, recessions are driven by a drop in spending on durable goods, like refrigerators, automobiles and computers. This recession is different. It’s driven primarily by a decline in spending at restaurants, hotels, bars and other service establishments that require in-person contact. We kinda already knew that. But what the team’s data show is that this decline in spending is mostly in rich ZIP codes, whose businesses saw a 70% drop-off in their revenue. That compares with a 30% drop in revenue for businesses in poorer ZIP codes.

Second, jobs. This 70% fall in revenue at businesses in rich ZIP codes led those businesses to lay off nearly 70% of their employees. These employees are mostly low-wage workers. Businesses in poorer ZIP codes laid off about 30% of their employees. The bottom line, Chetty said in his presentation, is that “reductions in spending by the rich have led to loss in jobs mostly for low-income individuals working in affluent areas.”

Third, the government rescue effort. They find it has mostly failed. The $500 billion Paycheck Protection Program, which has given forgivable loans to businesses with fewer than 500 employees, doesn’t appear to have done much to save jobs. When the researchers compare the employment trends of businesses with fewer than 500 employees with those with more, the smaller businesses eligible for PPP don’t see a relative boost after the program went into effect. It looks like the program didn’t do its job of saving jobs.