Understanding the Coronavirus Crisis: Key Fiscal and Economic Indicators | Peter G. Peterson Foundation

Understanding the Coronavirus Crisis

Key Fiscal and Economic Indicators as the Nation Responds and Recovers

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is an unprecedented national emergency requiring a significant federal response. This page provides resources and analysis, tracking the actions our leaders are taking to respond, and providing insights on the state of America’s fiscal and economic outlook during the recovery.

GDP Growth


Q1 2021

The continued economic recovery and reopening of businesses has been fueled by COVID relief programs and an accelerating vaccination effort.

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Cumulative Budget Deficit

$1.7 Trillion

Cumulative Deficit for Fiscal Year 2021.

The federal deficit is expected to reach $2.3 trillion this year, the second highest amount ever.

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Unemployment Rate


March 2021

The unemployment rate has improved from its peak of 14.7 percent in April 2020, which was the highest of any month since January 1948 — when data were first collected.

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Cost of Coronavirus Legislation

$5.3 Trillion

Total Cost of Enacted Legislation to Date

Lawmakers have passed legislation funding a range of new and existing programs aimed at providing economic relief.

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Interest Rates


Interest Rate on 10-Year Treasury Notes, as of April 8, 2021

The Treasury has been able to borrow cheaply because the Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Gross Federal Debt

$28 Trillion

As of March 1, 2021

The amount of federal debt held by the public is anticipated to exceed the size of the economy by next fiscal year.

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Real GDP Growth

Indicator Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Gross Domestic Product, April 2021.

Note: That number reflects the percent change in real GDP from the preceding quarter. It is reported at an annualized rate.

Cumulative Budget Deficits

Indicator Source: Department of the Treasury, Monthly Treasury Statement, Issue for March 2021.

Note: The federal fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends on September 30.

Unemployment Rate

Indicator Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Employment Situation — March 2021, February 2021.

Total Cost of Coronavirus Legislation Enacted

Indicator Source: Congressional Budget Office, The Effects of Pandemic-Related Legislation on Output. September 2020; and estimates for Divisions M and N — Additional Coronavirus Response and Relief under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, January 2021; and Estimated Budgetary Effects of H.R. 1319, American Rescue Plan of 2021, March 2021.

Interest Rates

Indicator Source: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Treasury Auction Results, April, 2021.

National Debt

Indicator Source: Peter G. Peterson Foundation, What Is the National Debt Today?, March 2021.

Note: Each business day, the U.S. Department of the Treasury reports the amount of debt outstanding at the end of the previous business day. Our formula uses that number, as well as debt projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), to estimate the rate at which the debt is currently growing. Our estimates reflect the latest information from Treasury and CBO projections that are updated 2–3 times per year.

Gross federal debt equals debt held by the public plus debt held by federal trust funds and other government accounts. In very basic terms, this can be thought of as debt that the government owes to others plus debt that it owes to itself.


The Latest and Trending

Latest insights from the Peterson Foundation on the fiscal and economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.

What is the Economic Damage from the Coronavirus?

It will take time to fully understand and measure the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the U.S. economy. However, recent insights and projections paint a clear picture of significant damage affecting every American family and business.


The coronavirus pandemic is upending the labor market, causing unemployment conditions not seen since the Great Depression.

Long-Term Unemployment has Quadrupled, and That's a Problem for the Economy

The number of individuals experiencing long-term unemployment (lasting 27 weeks or longer) has quadrupled during the pandemic.

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The Labor Market Remains a Long Way Off From its Pre-Pandemic Levels

Despite improvements to the labor market since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate remains high, especially for non-white workers. Get the facts here.

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New Projections for Unemployment, GDP, Inflation and Interest Rates

Labor market conditions continue to improve, though the unemployment rate is expected to remain higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

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  • Brookings Institution

Why has COVID-19 Been Especially Harmful for Working Women?

The Brookings Institution explores how the COVID-19 pandemic has been detrimental for women in the workforce.

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  • Economic Policy Institute

Young Workers Hit Hard by the COVID-19 Economy

The Economic Policy Institute explores the high unemployment and uncertain future that young workers face.

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Economic Growth

The response to the coronavirus has drastically affected the economy as consumption decreases, businesses are shuttered, and jobs are lost. Below are some resources outlining the depth of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Q4 GDP Continues to Grow, Though at a Much Slower Pace

As the nation continues to battle the devastating effects of the pandemic, new data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) shows a sharp drop in the rate of economic growth at the end of last year, while the nation’s economy overall remains significantly below pre-pandemic levels.

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See How COVID-19 has Impacted 10-Year Projections for GDP and More

New CBO projections underscore the severe economic damage the pandemic has caused.

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  • The Center for Law and Social Policy

How the COVID-19 Recession Deepens Racial and Economic Inequality Among Communities of Color

The Center for Law and Social Policy explores the disproportionate economic impact that the COVID-19 recession is having on communities of color.

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What Have Policymakers Done About the Coronavirus?

Legislators have responded to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in six major relief bills.

Legislative Actions to Date

Policymakers have enacted a number of initial relief packages designed to address the unique health and economic aspects of the pandemic.

Here’s Everything The Federal Government Has Done to Respond to the Coronavirus So Far

A recap of legislation enacted to date and an overview of what some analysts believe future support should look like.

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What's in the American Rescue Plan?

Here's a breakdown of the major programs in the American Rescue Plan and how much they cost.

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How Much Coronavirus Funding Has Gone to Your State?

Review our state-by-state breakdown of how much federal funding has been distributed thus far.

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  • Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

COVID Money Tracker: Policies Enacted To Date

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget is tracking the financial actions taken to address the current crisis.

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What’s in the CARES Act? Here’s a Summary

The $2 trillion relief package is the largest in history. Here’s what’s in it.

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Program Spending

To help mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus, lawmakers are providing funding for a number of new and existing programs in several key areas.

Safety Net Programs

Certain government programs are central to supporting the most vulnerable Americans during this time of economic distress.

The Coronavirus Has Led to a Surge in Spending on Unemployment Compensation

Federal spending on unemployment has been rising drastically. Here are the numbers.

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Spending on Medicaid Spiked Due to the Pandemic

With a massive reduction in economic activity and increased unemployment, many more Americans are relying on SNAP, resulting in increased federal spending on the food security program.

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How Has the Pandemic Affected Federal Spending on SNAP?

As unemployment numbers spike, many more Americans are relying on SNAP, resulting in increased federal spending on the food security program.

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How Will the Pandemic Impact Social Security’s Finances?

Social Security’s finances were already in trouble — and that was before the effects of the pandemic.

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  • EconoFact

Job Loss and the Safety Net

Econofact scholars discuss the importance of safety net programs during the pandemic.

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Relief for Individuals

In response to the pandemic, the government has provided both direct and indirect aid to individuals in the form of stimulus checks, student debt relief, and more.

What to Know About All Three Rounds of Coronavirus Stimulus Checks

Three sets of stimulus checks have been issued to eligible recipients as part of the pandemic relief. Each set of payments have been slightly different.

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Should Stimulus Checks Go to Higher-Income Americans

How should stimulus checks be structured and targeted for maximum effectiveness? Recent spending and saving trends offers some clues.

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Breaking Down the $32 Billion of Airline Industry Payroll Support in Coronavirus Relief Legislation

The CARES Act provided up to $32 billion in federal aid to cover employee salaries and benefits for airline workers. Here’s a breakdown of where that money went.

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  • The Institute for College Access and Success

Resources for Student Loan Borrowers

The CARES Act provided some relief to student loan borrowers. The Institute for College Access & Success summarizes that aid and how it affects students.

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Small Business Support

Support for small businesses could be crucial to ensuring the health of the U.S. economy.

How is the Government Supporting Small Business During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

America’s small businesses have been severely impacted by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

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How Effective Has the Federal Response to the Coronavirus Been for Small Businesses?

Programs were implemented to provide much needed support for small businesses, but how effective have they been?

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  • American Action Forum

Tracker: Paycheck Protection Program Loans

In this up-to-date tracker, the American Action Forum is charting the allocation of Paycheck Protection Program funds.

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  • Washington Center for Equitable Growth

Revamping U.S. Small Business Rescue Programs Amid the Coronavirus Recession

The Washington Center for Equitable Growth provides resources and suggestions on how policymakers can help to strengthen small businesses.

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Aid to State and Local Governments

Providing assistance to state and local governments is essential to helping them respond to the pandemic.

State Tax Revenues Took a Hit in the Wake of the Pandemic

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic took hold, economic activity slowed and tax revenues in most states began to decline.

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Pandemic May Cause States to Slash Social Services, Education, Police Budgets, and More

Governments warn that a budget crunch due to the coronavirus may lead to cuts to vital services.

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How Were State Budgets Doing Before the Economic Slowdown? And How Might the Pandemic Change Things

Some states were better prepared than others to handle this crisis according to a new report from the Volker Alliance.

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  • National Governors Association

New Relief from Washington — What Does This Mean for Transportation?

The National Governors Association provides an overview of the transportation support for states that was included in the latest COVID-19 relief measure.

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How Well Has the Coronavirus Fiscal Response Been Working?

Explore how effective the first four stimulus bills were and the effectiveness of the major programs included in it.

How Did the Fiscal Response to the Coronavirus Help the Economy?

Take a look at how the government’s initial response to the pandemic affected the nation’s economy.

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What Role Did the U.S. Safety Net Play in the Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Despite the increased federal deficit, the expansion of safety net programs led to generally effective stimulus of the economy. Learn more in our analysis of several programs including Unemployment Insurance, SNAP, and Medicaid.

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How Did Americans Spend Their Stimulus Checks and How Did It Affect the Economy?

The CARES Act granted stimulus checks to Americans to mitigate economic damage, but was it effective? Find out how stimulus checks affected the economy.

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How Effective Has the Coronavirus Relief Fund Been in Helping State and Local Governments?

In this piece we evaluate the degree to which federal funding assistance from the Coronavirus Relief Fund has helped other levels of government.

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How Did the Fiscal Response to Coronavirus Help Small Businesses?

The coronavirus pandemic has hit businesses especially hard, leading to significant reductions in their revenues and workforce.

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How Much Has Coronavirus Relief Helped Healthcare Providers?

To mitigate the difficulties facing the healthcare sector, the federal government has enacted a number of grants, loans, and other programs.

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Which Coronavirus Relief Programs Have Provided the Most Bang for the Buck?

While there is no single ideal way to deal with such a complex policy challenge as the pandemic, we can glean insights about how our responses have been working.

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How Does the Coronavirus Affect the Long-term Outlook?

This crisis has revealed a lack of preparedness on many fronts, including our fiscal condition. America entered the pandemic with already high and rising debt and deficits due to structural factors in our budget. As we take necessary steps to fight the coronavirus, it’s clear that our fiscal outlook will worsen significantly. Once the current crisis is over, we must come to terms with our lack of national preparedness and our inability to plan for the future in many areas.

The National Debt and Deficit

The national debt is a key issue for America’s future.

National Debt to Double in Size and Other Key Takeaways From the CBO Long-Term Outlook

The report highlights the structural misalignment in the country’s budget and the resulting unsustainable fiscal trajectory.

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13 Charts that Show the Stunning Impact of 2020 on Our Fiscal and Economic Outlook

Our fiscal situation was already unsustainable, but COVID-19 certainly did not help.

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Last Year We Saw the Largest Budget Deficit Since 1945, Driven Largely by the Pandemic

The federal budget deficit was $3.1 trillion in fiscal year 2020, which ran from October 2019 to September 2020.

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The Current Federal Deficit and Debt

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting the U.S. fiscal picture. Explore the monthly statistics on the federal budget and the national debt here.

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How Are We Paying for the Federal Response to the Coronavirus?

The Department of the Treasury has been able to finance the coronavirus relief spending at very low interest rates.

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What Is the National Debt Today?

An up-to-the-second counter of the national debt and more information about why it matters.

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How Does the Treasury Issue Debt?

As the United States borrows a significant amount of money to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, learn more about Treasury borrowing.

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The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the nature and urgency of key fiscal challenges threatening America's future, and to accelerating action on them. To address these challenges successfully, we work to bring Americans together to find and implement sensible, long-term solutions that transcend age, party lines and ideological divides in order to achieve real results.