What to Know About 2020's GDP So Far

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Economic indicators — government numbers that give us a high-level look at trends in the American economy — have always been a bit fraught and weighted, but now they might seem more so as the COVID-19 outbreak disrupts normal life for longer and longer. You might not have paid much attention to them before, but with record unemployment and a confusing stock market, we're all looking for a bigger explanation.

The first quarter of 2020 ended on March 31, but we're only just now getting a look at one of the most telling indicators of a national economy. The gross domestic product aggregates the value of a country's goods and services, and unfortunately, ours shrank nearly 5 percent in the first three months of the year. When you consider that most state and local governments began issuing stay-at-home orders in March, it might make you queasy about the Q2 numbers, the quarter we're in right now.

There's still some debate about what kind of trouble we're all in, whether it counts as a recession or something bigger. But the thing to remember about economic indicators is that they're macro in scale. They're also not something you yourself can change. That doesn't mean let these numbers overwhelm you; while it's more than reasonable to be scared or anxious, this reality can also spur you to action, whether it's revamping your finances, doubling down on savings, or joining a local mutual aid network. If following reports of things like GDP will stress you out, don't engage. There are plenty of other ways you can direct your attention, with real and tangible results.