Five days before the November election, the U.S. will likely report the fastest economic growth on record — but the growth data is unlikely to give President Trump the bounce he's looking for as he trails Joe Biden nationally.
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"I don't think the GDP numbers will matter for the election," Michael Barr, an economist at the University of Michigan, told FOX Business. "They are backward-looking, and what they are basically going to tell us is that the economy grew quickly last quarter. But it grew quickly from a devastating and brutal quarter before that."
The data is expected to show U.S. gross domestic product surged at least 30% on an annualized basis in the third quarter as businesses reopened and consumers returned to the marketplace following an unprecedented shutdown of the nation's economy
But the headline figure obscures the full picture: The economy contracted at an annual revised rate of 31.4% in the previous quarter, the sharpest decline in modern American history. The Commerce Department calculates the GDP on a quarter-over-quarter basis as if that level of growth were sustained for a full year; in times of huge swings up or down, it can exaggerate both the decline in growth and the subsequent rebound.
Because third-quarter growth will be measured against second-quarter growth -- a historically low baseline -- any bounce back at all would generate huge growth.
In April, May and June, the economy was about 9% smaller than it was during the previous quarter. According to the nonpartisan Brookings Institute, even if growth is at 30% in July, August and September, GDP would still be more than 4% below its level at the end of 2019.
Before the pandemic, the economy was growing at an annualized pace ranging from 2% to 3%.
"The economy in the third quarter will still be far below what it was pre-COVID, so far below that the depth of the recession even after that record growth will still be as a deep as a very deep recession, like the 2008 recession," Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist, told FOX Business.
Still, Trump has been touting the upcoming report as evidence of a strong "V-shaped" recovery from the pandemic.
"Wait till you see that number on GDP," Trump told supporters during a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa., on Monday. "We're having a super-V."
Economists pointed to other indicators -- like unemployment -- that suggested the nation's turnaround from the virus-induced crisis had plateaued over the late summer and into the fall. The economy has so far added back about half of the 22 million jobs lost to the pandemic, and the jobless rate remains historically high at 7.9%.
"We haven't recovered from the pandemic, and there are still over 11 million unemployed people in the U.S., with many more discouraged and out of the workforce," Barr said. "Until our country gets the pandemic under control, we won't fully recover."