The main factor behind the big third-quarter rebound in U.S. economic output was growth in spending by consumers. Business investment played a major role too, and for similar reasons: Activity was all but halted during the spring lockdowns, then bounced back once the economy began to reopen.
But beyond those big drivers, details in the report help show how the pandemic has reshaped the economy, if only temporarily.
Residential construction, for example, grew 12.3 percent in the second quarter, the biggest gain on record, and is one of the few sectors doing better than before the pandemic. The housing market froze up briefly in the spring, but came roaring back, buoyed by record-low interest rates and demand from apartment dwellers looking for more space to ride out the pandemic.
At the same time, trade patterns have been scrambled by the pandemic — first by factory shutdowns in China that disrupted global supply chains, then by the steep drop in demand for goods and services as countries went into lockdown.
In the United States, imports have rebounded relatively quickly, as consumers have returned to buying goods made in China and elsewhere. But exports have been slower to recover, in part because the United States is a big exporter of services — visits from foreign tourists and students, for example — which have been slow to recover. The result is a widening of the U.S. trade deficit.
Government spending fell in the third quarter. That might seem surprising given the huge outlay of federal money to help consumers and businesses weather the crisis. But much of that spending counts as transfer payments, which don’t show up directly in G.D.P. (The spending that the money makes possible, however, is counted as consumption.) State and local governments have begun to slash spending in response to falling tax revenues.