Another reason to expect a major rash of bankruptcies is that the pandemic has hit some sectors of the economy much harder than others: Airlines, hotels, restaurants, brick-and-mortar stores, and other service-related industries have all been disproportionately hurt. Until a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 becomes widely available, these parts of the economy will likely continue to bleed cash as they are forced to operate at a fraction of their normal capacity.
Other crucial, though less obvious sectors of the U.S. economy are also at risk. With international oil prices likely to remain low for as long as the global economy remains so weak, it’s only a matter of time before large swathes of the domestic shale oil industry need to file for bankruptcy. That industry employs 9.8 million people, or almost 6 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to the American Petroleum Institute.
Matters could be even worse for the commercial real estate sector. One of the likely long-run effects of the coronavirus pandemic is that it will accelerate the pace at which the U.S. economy was already becoming more digitized, with more employees working remotely and more businesses opting for virtual interaction over face-to-face meetings. With more shopping done online, will we really need so many brick-and-mortar stores? With more workers working from home, what happens to the existing stock of office space, garages, and public transit?