Households increased spending in May on services that they shunned earlier in the pandemic, helping position the economic recovery for a strong summer as more businesses fully reopen and consumers unleash pent-up demand, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
Spending was flat last month as consumers cut back on purchases of big-ticket items and rotated more of their money toward in-person services. Still, this spring shaped up to be a solid one for spending: April expenditures were upwardly revised to a 0.9% increase from a previously reported 0.5% rise. Overall spending in May was well above pre-pandemic levels, with spending on goods up nearly 20% from February 2020 and services down about 1%.
“Overall consumers are still well-positioned to attack the summer with a lot of enthusiasm,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “We have households that have a strong itch to spend, they have the means to do so, and they have fewer and fewer health reasons not to indulge.”
There are signs that suggest services spending has room to grow. For instance, spending on recreation rose 3.5% in May over the previous month, the Commerce Department said, as summer activities got underway. Airline travel has also increased, with scheduled seats on U.S. airlines climbing into the summer.
Separate data shows households with incomes of more than $200,000 spent 16% more on restaurants in May than in April. Those with incomes between $31,000 and $60,000 increased their spending by 5%, according to an analysis of credit- and debit card transactions from Affinity Solutions, a consumer-data firm.
Higher-income Americans are driving much of the spending growth, said Jonathan Silver, chief executive of Affinity Solutions. These consumers have more money to pay for services that they weren’t able to throughout much of the pandemic, he added.