That vision is far from a certainty. Delays in the vaccine rollout could stall the recovery. So could new strains of the virus that render vaccines less effective. A political standoff in Washington could hold up aid for unemployed workers and struggling businesses. And even if the economy avoids all of those traps, there is unlikely to be a single moment when public health officials give an “all clear”; it could be years before people pack into bars and sports stadiums the way they did before the pandemic.
A boom also carries risks. In recent weeks, prominent economists including Lawrence H. Summers, a Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, have warned that Mr. Biden’s relief proposal is too large and could lead the economy to overheat, pushing up prices and forcing the Federal Reserve to bring the party to a premature end. Fed officials have largely dismissed those concerns, noting that the consistent problem in recent decades has been too little inflation rather than too much.
Other economists fear that the rebound will primarily benefit those at the top, compounding inequities that the pandemic has widened.
“We may see a boom in the future, but that may just leave some people even further behind, or may give them a trickle when they need a waterfall,” said Tara Sinclair, a George Washington University economist.
But for many businesses and households that have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic, those concerns pale in comparison with the opportunities that a boom could provide.
Workout Anytime, a chain of 24-hour fitness clubs, was hit hard by the early stages of the pandemic, which shut down gyms nationwide. Business has since rebounded, but not to previous levels, as customers remain wary about working out in close quarters.
But Greg Maurer, a company vice president, sees better times ahead. The pandemic hasn’t dampened people’s enthusiasm for working out, he said — if anything, it has made the importance of physical fitness clearer. As soon as people are sure it’s safe, he said, he expects business to be gangbusters.