CBO projects that the economic expansion that began in mid-2020 will continue. Real GDP is projected to return to its prepandemic level in mid-2021. The number of people employed is projected to return to its prepandemic level in 2024.
The 2020–2021 coronavirus pandemic caused severe economic disruptions last year as households, governments, and businesses adopted a variety of mandatory and voluntary measures— collectively referred to here as social distancing—to limit in-person interactions that could spread the virus. The impact was focused on particular sectors of the economy, such as travel and hospitality, and job losses were concentrated among lower-wage workers.
Over the course of the coming year, vaccination is expected to greatly reduce the number of new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As a result, the extent of social distancing is expected to decline. In its new economic forecast, which covers the period from 2021 to 2031, the Congressional Budget Office therefore projects that the economic expansion that began in mid-2020 will continue. Specifically, real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to return to its prepandemic level in mid-2021 and to surpass its potential (that is, its maximum sustainable) level in early 2025. In CBO’s projections, the unemployment rate gradually declines through 2026, and the number of people employed returns to its prepandemic level in 2024.
CBO is using this economic forecast as the basis for updating its budget projections for 2021 to 2031. The agency plans to release those budget projections later in February and a more detailed report about this forecast later this winter. The forecast incorporates economic and other information available as of January 12, 2021, as well as estimates of the economic effects of all legislation (including pandemic-related legislation) enacted up to that date.