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How Full Employment Became Washington’s Creed

As President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr. prepares to take office this week, his administration and the Federal Reserve are pointed toward a singular economic goal: Get the job market back to where it was before the pandemic hit.The humming labor backdrop that existed 11 months ago — with 3.5 percent unemployment, stable or rising work force participation and steadily climbing wages — turned out to be a recipe for lifting all boats, creating economic opportunities for long-disenfranchised groups and lowering poverty rates. And price gains remained manageable and even a touch on the low side. That contrasts with efforts to push the labor …

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Even With $900 Billion Stimulus, Biden Faces Fragile Economy

With his presidential inauguration just weeks away, Joseph R. Biden Jr. is confronting an economic crisis that is utterly unparalleled and yet eerily familiar.Millions of Americans are out of work, small businesses are struggling to survive, hunger is rampant, and people across the country fear getting kicked out of their homes. The moment was similarly perilous exactly 12 years ago, when Mr. Biden was the vice president-elect and preparing to take office.“I remember the utter terror,” said Cecilia Rouse, who was an economic adviser in the Obama White House and has been chosen to lead Mr. Biden’s Council …

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Stimulus Money Should Have Gone to the Jobless, Economists Say

But in terms of the multiplier effect, it’s likely to pale in comparison to the impact in the spring, when the unemployment rate was much higher and there were real fears the country could experience a second Great Depression.“The more you hit the stimulus button, the less impact you see,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco. And the hardest hit sectors — dining, entertainment and travel — are unlikely to see much of a boost now, since consumers are wary of going out or live in states like California and New York where …

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Stimulus Deal Provides Economic Relief, for Now

The congressional agreement on Sunday on another dose of aid to fuel the slowing economic recovery has probably spared millions of Americans from a winter of poverty and kept the country from falling back into recession.For much of the economy — especially people and industries that have been insulated from the worst effects of the pandemic — it may provide a bridge to a vaccine-fueled rebound. That is especially likely if the vaccine is quickly and widely distributed, and the swelling number of coronavirus cases doesn’t force another round of widespread shutdowns.The injection of money comes months too late …

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After Biden Win, Nation’s Republicans Fear the Economy Ahead

Optimism about the economy has taken a nosedive among Republicans. But the economy did not drive the change. The presidential election did.After President Trump’s loss to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., more than 40 percent of Republicans who were polled for The New York Times said they expected their family to be worse off financially in a year’s time, up from 4 percent in October. Democrats expressed a rise in optimism — though not as sharp as the change in Republican sentiment.The new polling, by the online research firm SurveyMonkey, reaffirms the degree to which Americans’ confidence …

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For the World Economy, a Grim Slog Tempered by New Hopes

Nearly a year into a pandemic that has ravaged the global economy like no time since the Great Depression, the only clear pathway toward improved fortunes is containing the virus itself.With the United States suffering its most rampant transmission yet, and with major nations in Europe again under lockdown, prospects remain grim for a meaningful worldwide recovery before the middle of next year, and far longer in some economies. Substantial job growth could take longer still.A significant hope has emerged this month in the form of three vaccine candidates, easing fears that humanity could be subject to years …

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Pushed by Pandemic, Amazon Goes on a Hiring Spree Without Equal

SEATTLE — Amazon has embarked on an extraordinary hiring binge this year, vacuuming up an average of 1,400 new workers a day and solidifying its power as online shopping becomes more entrenched in the coronavirus pandemic.The hiring has taken place at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, at its hundreds of warehouses in rural communities and suburbs, and in countries such as India and Italy. Amazon added 427,300 employees between January and October, pushing its work force to more than 1.2 million people globally, up more than 50 percent from a year ago. Its number of workers now approaches the entire population of Dallas.The …

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Recession With a Difference: Women Face Special Burden

For millions of working women, the coronavirus pandemic has delivered a rare and ruinous one-two-three punch.

First, the parts of the economy that were smacked hardest and earliest by job losses were ones where women dominate — restaurants, retail businesses and health care.

Then a second wave began taking out local and state government jobs, another area where women outnumber men.

The third blow has, for many, been the knockout: the closing of child care centers and the shift to remote schooling. That has saddled working mothers, much more than fathers, with overwhelming household responsibilities.

“We’ve never seen this before,” said Betsey Stevenson, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan and the mother of a second grader and a sixth grader. Recessions usually start by gutting the manufacturing and construction industries, where men hold most of the jobs, she said.

The impact on the economic and social landscape is both immediate and enduring.

The triple punch is not just pushing women out of jobs they held, but also preventing many from seeking new ones. For an individual, it could limit prospects and earnings over a lifetime. Across a nation, it could stunt growth, robbing the economy of educated, experienced and dedicated workers.

Inequality in the home — in terms of household and child care responsibilities — influences inequality in the workplace, Misty L. Heggeness, a principal economist at the Census Bureau, concluded in a working paper on the pandemic’s impact for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Without a more comprehensive system of support, she said, “mothers will forever be vulnerable to career scarring during any major crisis like this pandemic.”

The latest jobs report from the Labor Department showed that some of the damage was reversed last month as the service industry revived, nudging down the jobless rate for women to 6.5 percent, slightly below men’s. But there were still 4.5 million fewer women employed in October than there were a year ago, compared with 4.1 million men.

And according to the Census Bureau, a third of the working women 25 to 44 years old who are unemployed said the reason was child care demands. Only 12 percent of unemployed men cited those demands.

Laci Oyler has felt that pressure. Her husband, employed by a large printing company, was already working from home when the pandemic shuttered day care and schools in Milwaukee. But after two days of taking care of their two young sons, “he said, ‘Absolutely no way,’” Ms. Oyler explained. So she cut her weekly hours as a mental health counselor for Alverno College, a small Catholic institution, to five from 32.

In August, when she learned that public schools would continue to offer only online classes for the fall, Ms. Oyler decided she had little choice but to take an unpaid leave.

This month, she decided to resign.

“Work is so much more than what you’re taking home as payment,” Ms. Oyler said. “But when you look at that bottom line of risk versus reward, it doesn’t seem worth it,” she added, referring to the cost of child care combined with the possibility of coronavirus infection for her or her children.

As a licensed professional, Ms. Oyler does not expect to have difficulty returning to the work force when she is ready. But for most working women, dropping out to take care of children or other family members exacts a sizable toll, several studies have shown. Rejoining is hard, and if women do, they generally earn less and have less security. And the longer someone is out of work, the tougher it is to get back in.

Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard, said this was the first recession where the economy was so intertwined with the network of child care.

“During the Great Depression, no one cared about the care sector,” she said. “Women weren’t in the labor force, and they weren’t supposed to be.”

One reason that Congress started giving financial assistance to poor households headed by women in the 1930s, under a program originally titled Aid to Dependent Children, was so they could stay home with their children and not compete with men for jobs, Ms. Goldin said.

Only during World War II, when women were urgently needed in factories and offices to replace men who were in the military, did the government establish a far-reaching federally subsidized network of nurseries and child care centers in nearly every state. Once the war ended, so did the support.

“You cannot have a contented mother working in a war factory if she is worrying about her children, and you cannot have children running wild in the streets without a bad effect on the coming generations,” Senator Carl Hayden, an Arizona Democrat, testified in 1943.

Women make up roughly half of the country’s work force. They range from entry-level to professional, they live in urban, suburban and rural areas, and they often care for toddlers and teenagers. But the burdens of the pandemic-induced recession have fallen most heavily on low-income and minority women and single mothers.

Members of these overlapping groups often have the most unpredictable schedules, and the fewest benefits, and are least able to afford child care. They fill most of the essential jobs that cannot be done from home and, therefore, carry the most risk for exposure to the virus. At the same time, they make up a disproportionate share of the service industries that have lost the most jobs. The jobless rate is 9.2 percent for Black women and 9 percent for Hispanic women.

When the pandemic caused housecleaning jobs to dry up, Andrea Poe was able to find cleaning work at a resort in Orange Beach, Ala., about a 45-minute drive from Pensacola, Fla., where she and her 14-year-old daughter, Cheyenne Poe, had moved in with an older daughter, her fiancé and their five children.

The families were behind in the rent and threatened with eviction when Hurricane Sally ripped through the coast in September. To escape the floods, they piled into two cars, drove to Biloxi, Miss., and spent five nights in a Walmart parking lot.

Now Ms. Poe and Cheyenne, who has turned 15, are in Peoria, Ariz., living in a room in her mother’s trailer.

She said she was applying for jobs every day, so far without luck. And the bills keep coming. Ms. Poe has missed two consecutive loan payments on her car and worries that it will be repossessed.

“I’m just hoping my unemployment checks come through so my car doesn’t get taken away,” she said. “If I lose my car, I’ll never be able to get a job.”

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Credit…Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

Women with more resources are in a better position, but they struggle in other ways.

When the pandemic ripped through Seattle and compelled Kenna Smith, 37, to work from home, she initially saw one upside — a chance to spend more time with her 3-year old son.

“At first, I thought I’d just focus on my child,” said Ms. Smith, who had just started a branding and design company, Wildforth Creative. “It was fun for a while, but then the stress was intense.”

Like many families who were worried about the risk of infection or short of money and space, Ms. Smith and her husband let their son’s nanny go. Her husband, project manager for a general contractor, worked out of their bedroom.

“I’m not sure why it totally fell on me,” Ms. Smith said of child care. “I’m out in the living room, dining room area with a whole bunch of toys strewn about, with my laptop, trying to run my business.

“I was wanting to work and wanting my business to succeed so badly,” she said. “I didn’t realize. …” She paused, interrupted by a voice: “Mommy, I want some applesauce.”

The couple recently decided to hire a part-time nanny, concluding that despite the expense, it was the only way both could keep working. (Ms. Smith’s sister is also helping out.)

From 2015 until the pandemic, women’s increasing participation in the work force was a primary driver of the economy’s expansion, said Ms. Stevenson, the Michigan economist. “It’s why the economy grew the way it did, why employers could keep hiring month after month,” she said.

Since February, women’s participation in the labor force has been falling, with the biggest decreases among women without college degrees who have children.

Changes forced on women by the pandemic elicit a mixture of anxiety and hope.

Many women worry that the changes will sharply narrow women’s choices and push them unwillingly into the unpaid role of full-time homemaker.

And the impact could stretch over generations, paring women’s retirement savings, and reducing future earnings of children now in low-income households.

“We are creating inequality 20 years down the line that is even greater than we have today,” said Ms. Stevenson, who was a member of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “This is how inequality begets inequality.”

Yet there is also the possibility that the mounting pressures could create momentum to complete the unfinished project of fully integrating women into the work force by providing a system of family support — like affordable child care and paid parental and sick leave.

“I think we’re really at a crossroads,” said Julie Kashen, director for women’s economic justice at the Century Foundation and one of the authors of a new report on the pandemic and working women. “We’ve never built a workplace that worked for people with caregiving responsibilities.”

Gillian Friedman contributed reporting.

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Economic Demands Test Biden Even Before Inauguration

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s first economic test is coming months before Inauguration Day, as a slowing recovery and accelerating coronavirus infections give new urgency to talks on government aid to struggling households and businesses.

With a short window for action in the lame-duck congressional session, Mr. Biden must decide whether to push Democratic leaders to cut a quick deal on a package much smaller than they say is needed or to hold out hope for a larger one after he takes office.

A continued standoff over aid could set the stage for sluggish growth that persists long into Mr. Biden’s presidency. Republican and Democratic leaders remain far apart on the size and contents of a rescue package, though both sides say lawmakers should act quickly.

Mr. Biden has until now sided with top Democrats in Congress. A Biden transition adviser said Friday that he had begun to have conversations with lawmakers about what a lame-duck package should look like.

The shifting dynamics of both the pandemic and the recovery are complicating the debate. Even as it has slowed, the economy has proved more resilient than many experts expected early in the coronavirus outbreak, leading Republicans, in particular, to resist a big new dose of federal aid. But the recent surge in hospitalizations and deaths from the virus has increased the risk that the economy could slow further.

Last spring, economists were nearly unanimous in urging Congress to provide as much money as possible, as quickly as it could. Now, many conservative economists say a much smaller follow-up package would suffice. Even as progressives point to slowing job creation and soaring long-term unemployment rates to argue for trillions of dollars in aid, a growing number of liberal economists are urging Democrats to compromise and accept a smaller package to get money flowing quickly.

“A meaningful something is a lot better than nothing,” said Jason Furman, who was a top economic adviser to former President Barack Obama. “Preventing damage to the economy today puts it in a better position a year from now.”

But others with ties to Mr. Biden’s team see the economic and political trade-offs differently. William E. Spriggs, a Labor Department official under Mr. Obama, agreed that it was vital for Congress to act quickly. But he urged Democrats not to accept too small a deal because it might prove insufficient and make it harder to win support for more aid later on.

“You will get people saying it didn’t work, so we don’t need to do it again,” said Mr. Spriggs, whom prominent Democrats have pushed for a role in the Biden administration. “You make it harder to go to the well again.”

Polls continue to show strong bipartisan support for more spending, including another round of direct payments to households. But it appears increasingly likely that if Congress reaches a deal by the end of the year, it will be for a package that is far smaller than the deal that Democrats and the White House were discussing before the election, which called for an outlay of more than $1.5 trillion.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said relatively strong employment numbers for October showed that the economy was “really moving to get back on its feet” without much government aid.

Mr. Biden will almost certainly propose a broader stimulus effort, but unless Democrats take control of the Senate — which would require them to win two runoff elections in Georgia in January — his ability to push a deal through Congress will be limited. Republicans have cited concerns about the record budget deficit in opposing another large round of government spending.

Prospects for a new relief bill have been further clouded by ambiguous economic readings that can support seemingly any policy preferences.

To those pushing for a smaller package, recent data suggests the economy is on firmer footing. The trillions of dollars that Congress provided in the spring largely succeeded in buoying the economy, and while progress has slowed, it has not stopped: Employers have added almost three million jobs in the last three months, and the unemployment rate — nearly 15 percent in April — has fallen by more than half.

“We have an unemployment rate below 7 percent right now,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “That calls for a very different amount of stimulus than if the unemployment rate were in the range of 10 percent, which is where we all thought it would be.”

Many progressives, however, argue those aggregate figures obscure more severe harm beneath the surface. White-collar professionals, many of whom can work from home and have benefited from the strong stock market, have done relatively well during the pandemic, and some industries, like construction and automaking, have bounced back. But service businesses, like restaurants and hotels, are still suffering, with little chance of revival before a vaccine is widely available.

“Things have improved more quickly than I expected, but we still have an enormous gap,” said Heidi Shierholz, a Labor Department economist in the Obama administration who is the policy director for the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington. She said the economy still needed trillions of dollars of support over the next two years.

The need is particularly acute among historically disadvantaged groups that have been hit hardest by the recession. The unemployment rate for Black Americans remains in the double digits, and hundreds of thousands of women are no longer working or seeking work, often because they must care for children who are home from school. More than 3.5 million Americans have been unemployed for more than six months.

“To say we don’t need as much aid is ridiculous,” said Olugbenga Ajilore, an economist at the Center for American Progress, a liberal group. “What that signals is all we care about is white men and no one else matters.”

Then, there is the pandemic itself. Many epidemiologists warn that infection rates are likely to keep rising as people gather indoors and travel for the holidays. That could bring a wave of new layoffs as consumers pull back on activity and businesses face new restrictions.

“We do see the economy continuing on a solid path of recovery, but the main risk we see to that is clearly the further spread of the disease here in the United States,” Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said Thursday. “People may lose confidence that it is safe to go out.”

Some forecasters are skeptical that the latest rise in cases will be as damaging, at least economically, as earlier waves. Businesses and consumers have learned to adapt to the virus — or, in some cases, have chosen to ignore the risks — and states have generally resisted reimposing the strict lockdown policies that were common last spring.

“I had really not appreciated how much economic activity we would keep doing in the face of a pandemic,” said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic policy arm of the Brookings Institution. “It could well be that the economy can continue to muddle along despite a surge in the virus this winter.”

But muddling along could have long-term consequences. After the last recession, the federal government pulled back on aid before the economy had fully recovered, leading to a slog that was particularly hard on Black and Hispanic households.

And without aid, the virus may push more businesses over the edge, setting off ripples through the entire economy.

“You’re never quite sure if you’re near to some kind of tipping point where the stimulus might be just enough to keep you from tipping,” said Chris Varvares, co-head of U.S. economics at IHS Markit, a forecasting firm. “Especially for those affected families that are about to be evicted or about to have foreclosure proceedings brought against them, or for small-business owners that are about to throw in the towel, the stimulus could provide that lifeline.”

Economists broadly agree that Congress should focus on aid to state and local governments, support for small businesses and an extension of the expanded unemployment benefit programs that are set to expire at the end of the year. Mr. Biden discussed a similar list of priorities on Thursday with the top congressional Democrats, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, according to a summary from the participants.

On Friday, a transition adviser to Mr. Biden, Jen Psaki, brushed aside several questions from reporters about the president-elect’s views on the size and timing of a stimulus package, other than to say that on Capitol Hill “there have been conversations started that he’s engaged with.”

“You should expect that he will continue to be engaged in those discussions,” Ms. Psaki said, “and certainly wants to see the American people receive the relief they need.”

The most important thing, many economists agree, is speed. Karen Dynan, a Harvard economist and a Treasury Department official in the Obama administration, said the better-than-expected economic data was no excuse to delay assistance. Rather, she said, it is evidence that the aid so far has been effective — and that as it fades, Congress needs to do more.

“We need to recognize that the economy has only done as well as it has because we had such aggressive fiscal stimulus early on,” she said.

Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.

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While the Pandemic Wrecked Some Businesses, Others Did Fine. Even Great.

The pandemic has turbocharged profits at some big businesses, like Amazon, which reported a 70 percent increase in earnings in the first nine months of the year. But it has devastated others, like Delta Air Lines, which lost $5.4 billion in just the third quarter.

Perhaps most surprising: Some companies that had feared for their lives in the spring, among them some rental car businesses, restaurant chains and financial firms, are now doing fine — or even excelling.

Wall Street analysts expect earnings to rebound to a record high next year. And, over all, 80 percent of companies in the S&P 500 stock index that have reported third-quarter earnings so far have exceeded analysts’ expectations, said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst for S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Typically, just shy of two-thirds of companies beat analysts’ quarterly forecasts. “It’s amazing,” Mr. Silverblatt said.

As the pandemic forced people to stay home and do more things online, some successful companies were perfectly positioned to take advantage of the change. Now, these businesses are becoming even more dominant.

Consider Amazon. Its profits in the first nine months were up $5.8 billion from a year earlier. They allowed the company to spend 120 percent more during the period on things like warehouses, technology and other capital investments. That spending — $25.3 billion — could make it harder for all but Amazon’s biggest competitors to keep up with its growth.

Often in the past, companies that appeared strong during an expansion struggled in the next recession, delaying a full recovery. For example, banks grew with abandon before the 2008 financial crisis but later became a drag on the economy as they repaired their balance sheets.

Tech companies were strong before the pandemic downturn — and have powered through the rout, which could help the economy recover faster this time, said Jonathan Golub, chief U.S. equity strategist at Credit Suisse Securities. “It’s really quite breathtaking,” he said.

When the pandemic hit, many executives understandably feared that their companies were facing an existential crisis or, at least, a very difficult recession. But a surprising number of such companies have excelled.

Mr. Cooper, a mortgage company, believed that it might face a financial squeeze in the spring when some homeowners were unable to make monthly payments. But a federal regulator provided relief to mortgage lenders, and then business was helped by a surge in refinancing. Mr. Cooper’s revenue in the first nine months of the year was up 40 percent, and its stock has climbed 341 percent from its low in April.

During recessions, consumers often decide to pull back and avoid large outlays. But this year, something different happened. Many Americans who did not lose jobs but were also not spending on travel and entertainment found themselves with more disposable income. The $1,200 stimulus payments from the government also helped.

This has been a boon for companies that initially feared a deep recession. General Motors and Ford Motor, for example, rushed to borrow billions of dollars early in the year, expecting that car sales would tumble and stay low for a while. The auto business did struggle and automakers had to close their factories for about two months, but sales started picking up this summer. For the third quarter, G.M., Ford and other automakers reported big profits.

Some large restaurant chains, after pressing for a federal bailout, have done much better than expected as drive-through customers, delivery and takeout orders bolstered sales. On Thursday, Papa John’s, whose stock is up 32 percent this year, reported surging sales, profits and cash flow and announced a new stock buyback program. Its chief executive, Rob Lynch, said the company had added “over eight million” customers this year.

Asked on a call with financial analysts Thursday if the company can hold on to such gains, Mr. Lynch said that many of the new customers were dining more frequently and that the average spending per order was larger than before the pandemic.

“So that gives us a lot of confidence that they have come in, they are enjoying their experience and they’re coming back,” Mr. Lynch said.

But there are winners and losers even within industries. Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden and other brands that are more reliant on in-restaurant dining, reported a 28 percent decline in sales in the three months through the end of August. Its stock price is down 6 percent this year.

Darden is in a painful waiting game. For its results to recover, it needs big states to relax indoor dining restrictions.

“We need to get California back,” Gene Lee, Darden’s chief executive, said on a call with analysts. Olive Garden has 100 restaurants in the state, he said.

Even as much of the travel industry struggles, some companies have found a way to survive.

Hertz sought bankruptcy protection in May. And its biggest competitor, the Avis Budget Group, ran up large losses — $639 million in the first six months of the year. But Avis turned a modest $45 million profit in the third quarter.

The company’s comeback was made possible by cost cutting and a decision to sell 75,000 vehicles in the United States to take advantage of strong demand for used cars. (Nationally, spending on used light trucks, including sport utility vehicles, was up nearly 19 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier.)

Of course, that strategy might not keep working. Demand for rental cars is still low, and many Avis Budget locations are at airports, which are seeing precious little traffic. Other companies that have more urban and suburban locations, like Enterprise, are better positioned because they don’t depend as much on air travelers.

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Credit…Kyle Grillot for The New York Times

Passenger airlines are among the biggest losers of the pandemic, and they have few options to improve their prospects. Delta, United Airlines and American Airlines worked quickly to cut costs and got $50 billion in the March federal stimulus package.

After suffering from a dizzying collapse in business in the spring, airlines pinned their hopes on the typically busy summer season, which brought some relief despite a surge in virus cases in July. But that did little to ease the pain. In the third quarter, American lost $2.4 billion and United lost $1.8 billion. For all three, revenue fell more than 70 percent from the same three months last year.

With coronavirus cases at record highs and domestic air travel still down 60 percent from last year, there’s little hope that the typically slower winter season will bring a meaningful rebound. The industry is hoping Congress will authorize another round of aid to help it pay thousands of workers.

Investors, who are more likely to buy stocks if they believe companies will make more money, are signaling that they expect a broad profits recovery among the largest U.S. companies. The S&P 500 has soared nearly 57 percent from its March low and is up 8.6 percent for the year.

Those gains might seem odd given that the combined profits of the companies in that index are on track to decline 25 percent this year from a record showing in 2019. But a big chunk of that rally can be attributed to a handful of large technology stocks. Investors are also counting on the Federal Reserve to keep its benchmark interest rate low for years to come and to keep pumping money into the financial system.

Of course, many struggling businesses, including lots of restaurants, stores and services companies are not traded on the stock market. That means a surge in stock prices can give a misleadingly optimistic view of where the economy is headed.

“The economy is not as good as the market is,” said Mr. Golub of Credit Suisse.