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U.S. retail sales suffered the biggest drop in history in March, plummeting by 8.7 percent as the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses around the country to close and shoppers were directed to stay at home.
It was the steepest decline since the government began tracking retail sales in 1992. February’s report was revised to a 0.4 percent decline.
The bleak Commerce Department report on Wednesday revealed that while grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses deemed essential experienced a spike in demand last month as Americans stocked up on things like toilet paper and medicine, it was dampened by sharp declines in other areas like clothing (which fell by 50.7 percent compared to last year) as cities and states throughout the country imposed strict stay-at-home measures.
According to economists surveyed by Refinitiv, retail sales were expected to have fallen 8.0 percent last month.
The report came as millions of Americans were laid off. In the three weeks through April 4, a stunning 16 million individuals filed for first-time unemployment benefits, revealing the depth of the economic calamity inflicted by the virus.
Consumer spending accounts for nearly two-thirds of the nation's GDP.
Lawmakers are looking to provide relief to laid-off workers with a $2 trillion stimulus package, the largest relief bill in recent memory, that President Trump signed last week. In addition to giving adults who earn less than $99,000 annually up to $1,200 cash checks, the bill expanded unemployment benefits.