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Changes to consumer expenditures during the COVID-19 pandemic

May 03, 2022

After the COVID-19 pandemic began, consumer spending in the second quarter of 2020 was down 9.8 percent from the same period in 2019. One year later, in the second quarter of 2021, the pandemic was still affecting the economy, but businesses and consumers had begun to adapt. That resulted in consumer expenditures that were 15.7 percent higher in the second quarter of 2021 than a year earlier. Consumer expenditures in the first and second quarters of 2021 were even higher than in the first quarter of 2020, which was largely unaffected by the pandemic because it began late in first quarter.

Over-the-year percent changes in total consumer expenditures before and during the COVID-19 pandemic
Period Percent change

First quarter 2019 to first quarter 2020

1.6%

Second quarter 2019 to second quarter 2020

-9.8

First quarter 2020 to first quarter 2021

2.8

Second quarter 2020 to second quarter 2021

15.7

The largest changes in consumer spending during the pandemic were for food away from home, alcoholic beverages, and apparel and services. These categories showed similar patterns with huge swings, both negative and positive. The largest decline was a 53.7-percent drop in spending for food away from home from the second quarter of 2019 to the second quarter 2020. The largest increase was a 91.2-percent rise in spending for food away from home from the second quarter of 2020 to the second quarter of 2021.

Over-the-year percent changes in consumer expenditures in selected categories before and during the COVID-19 pandemic
Expenditure category First quarter 2019 to first quarter 2020 Second quarter 2019 to second quarter 2020 First quarter 2020 to first quarter 2021 Second quarter 2020 to second quarter 2021

Food away from home

-8.0% -53.7% -14.7% 91.2%

Apparel and services

-14.3 -48.6 5.3 70.3

Alcoholic beverages

-1.6 -29.0 -12.6 61.9

Entertainment

-13.0 -21.0 24.2 27.7

Transportation

0.1 -19.3 2.3 23.3

Food at home

10.1 -2.6 7.8 9.7

Shelter

4.7 -0.2 3.0 8.0

Healthcare

2.8 -1.9 1.1 7.9

Transportation also had similar expenditure patterns in the second quarter of 2021, although not as pronounced as the other categories. Transportation spending declined 19.3 percent from the second quarter of 2019 to the second quarter 2020 and rose 23.3 percent from the second quarter of 2020 to the second quarter of 2021.

Shelter and healthcare are two categories for which consumer spending historically has been relatively stable. During the pandemic, however, shelter expenditures rose 8.0 percent from the second quarter of 2020 to the second quarter of 2021, while healthcare spending rose 7.9 percent over the same time.

These data are from the Consumer Expenditure Surveys. For more definitions from the survey, see our glossary. We also have public use microdata files available for researchers.

SUGGESTED CITATION

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Changes to consumer expenditures during the COVID-19 pandemic at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2022/changes-to-consumer-expenditures-during-the-covid-19-pandemic.htm (visited December 08, 2022).