Retail Sales Were Down in May. Time to Panic?

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The Commerce Department reported today that retail sales in May were down 0.3 percent. But not really. Inflation was actually negative last month, so in real terms the decline was only 0.1 percent. It also means the decline wasn’t “the sharpest since a 1% decrease in January 2016.” There have been five declines in the past two years bigger than May’s, including a drop of 0.32 percent just three months ago.

So should we just relax about last month’s weak retail figures? I’ll let you decide. For the affirmative, there’s this chart:

Nothing much there, really. But for the negative, there’s this chart:

The trendline is pretty steadily down. Roughly speaking, this confirms my current belief that the economy is still doing OK, but a little less OK as time goes on. It seems like our nine-year expansion may be slowly running out of steam.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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