In a few days, 90% of you will receive a check worth at least $1,400 from the government, with twice that going to couples and even more to people with dependent children.
The question is, do you need it?
Oh sure, if you’re laid off or furloughed and behind in rent and other bills, the answer is an emphatic “yes.” But that’s not the criteria for getting a check. All you need is a pulse and an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less, if you file taxes as an individual, or $150,000 or less if you file as a couple.
Sure, who couldn’t use a little extra cash? But how many couples like that do you know who need a welfare check?
It would make much more sense to limit checks to people who really need them, perhaps giving them even more.
It would make most sense to confine the stimulus to things that would help businesses keep people employed during the temporary hard times caused by a pandemic that has sent people indoors, where they and their money are safe.
The latest stimulus package contains some of that — tax credits to low-income people, and extension of unemployment benefits, insurance subsidies and rental assistance. But the checks to individuals will cost about $400 billion alone, and many people don’t need them.
In fact, there are reasons to believe the new $1.9 trillion stimulus bill will hurt the economy in the long run.
Last year, after the first stimulus bills were passed in the spring, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office studied what they did to economic output. For starters, they were expected to increase economic output by 4.7% in 2020 and 3.1% in 2021. But from 2020 to 2023, that increase would amount to about 58 cents for every dollar of tax money spent.
If you owned a business, would you make a move that would bring in 58 cents for every dollar it cost you? You would if you wanted to go out of business.
The long-term effects on the economy were expected to be even worse. If you have watched the national debt grow over the past year, you know why.
“(The Congressional Budget Office) expects that increase (in debt) to raise borrowing costs, lower economic output, and reduce the income of U.S. households and businesses,” the report said.
But wait, it gets worse.
“In addition, the higher debt — coming at a time when the longer-term path for debt was already high — could eventually increase the risk of a fiscal crisis or of less abrupt economic changes, such as higher inflation or the undermining of the U.S. dollar’s predominant role in global financial markets,” the report said.
Sometimes, you have to spend borrowed money to jump-start an economy that is so bad its social costs threaten to overwhelm institutions. Certainly, many people and businesses suffered through the past year through no fault of their own.
But many others prospered, and they saved money because they couldn’t do a lot of the things they used to do for fun. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Americans saved an average of 18.4% of their income from April through January.
They also paid off credit cards. This was true nationwide, but especially in some cities. Interestingly, the residents of Utah’s West Valley City finished second in this category among all cities nationwide, paying off a combined $419.2 million, or $1,234 per household, according to wallethub.com.
Some economists think all this pent-up savings will result in boom times once restrictions are lifted. That is, unless the nation’s debt drags us down.
But, as CNN Business reporter Chris Isidore wrote recently, a lot of economists think “many who receive the checks will either put the money into savings or use it to pay down debt, neither of which will do much to increase overall economic activity.”
As I said, the pent-up savings and the ability to pay down debt has not reached all corners of society. The nation’s unemployment rate was 6.2% in February, and weekly unemployment claim numbers continue to cause concerns.
But that argues for a more nuanced, targeted stimulus directed at those in need, rather than one that showers the fortunate with even greater fortune.
Despite what politicians would like you to believe, this isn’t a purely partisan issue. Remember that Donald Trump, when he was president, wanted to give $2,000 to each American instead of the $600 the last stimulus bill provided.
When you depend on people for votes, it can be tempting to give them money. In this case, however, the nation could have done much more with less.