CORONAVIRUS

Retail sales down almost 9 percent

Coronavirus guts consumer spending

Passers-by wear masks while walking a window display for an Anthropologie store in Cranston, R.I. (Associated Press)
Passers-by wear masks while walking a window display for an Anthropologie store in Cranston, R.I. (Associated Press)

Retail sales plunged 8.7 percent in March, marking the largest monthly decline ever as the coronavirus pandemic guts consumer spending, yanks millions out of the workforce and forces people to stay home.

The figures stand in stark comparison to February’s revised 0.4 percent decline, and offer another lens into just how quickly the outbreak seized the American economy.

The drop blew past economist expectations of about 8 percent.

American consumers drive 70 percent of the country’s economy. But now, spending at restaurants, stores, malls and other loctions essentially has hollowed out.

Across the country, grocery shelves are mostly picked clean of eggs and flour, toilet paper and disinfectant wipes. Delivery workers risk their lives to bring packages to peoples’ doorsteps.

Wednesday’s figures from the Commerce Department show that sales at food and beverage stores were up 28 percent compared to March of last year.

But those dynamics don’t capture the full picture of just how abruptly spending has faltered.

About 80 million people will receive stimulus checks by Wednesday from the federal government. But even a boost of $1,200 — which people are mostly spending on food — is unlikely to save a retail sector in free fall.

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