Economists think the big job gains reported on Friday are just the beginning. One reason: U.S. households had $2.4 trillion in savings in February, $1 trillion more than a year earlier. And that was before the latest wave of $1,400 relief checks started going out in March.
The primary factor holding back spending has been the pandemic, which has prevented people from spending on restaurant meals, vacations and concert tickets. But with the vaccine rollout accelerating, that could soon change.
About 35 percent of Americans plan to spend more on travel over the next 12 months than they do in a typical year, according to a survey conducted last month for The New York Times by the online research firm SurveyMonkey. About 28 percent plan to spend more than usual at restaurants. And over all, close to 70 percent of adults plan to spend more than usual in at least one category, at least if the health situation allows.
“They have the money in the bank, they’re ready to spend it, but what was holding them back was not having a comfort about being able to go out,” said Jay Bryson, chief economist for Wells Fargo. “We’re getting into a critical mass of people that are feeling comfortable beginning to go out again.”
But there are signs that Americans remain cautious. The survey was conducted in mid-March, just as the Treasury was preparing to send the $1,400 checks to millions of households. More than half the survey respondents who expected to receive checks said they planned to save most of the money or pay down debt. One-third said they would use it for immediate needs like food or rent. Only 10 percent said they planned to spend most of the money on discretionary items.
And while many Americans may be dreaming up ways to spend the money they saved during the pandemic, those hardest hit by the crisis are still trying to regain their financial footing. Among the unemployed, 62 percent said they planned to use their stimulus check to meet immediate needs, compared with 29 percent of the employed. Only 3 percent of the unemployed said they planned to use their stimulus checks on discretionary purchases.
Waymo, the autonomous car unit of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said John Krafcik is stepping down as chief executive after five and a half years at the helm.
In a statement, Waymo said the chief executive duties will be divided between two current company executives — Tekedra Mawakana and Dmitri Dolgov. Ms. Mawakana was Waymo’s chief operating officer, and Mr. Dolgov was the company’s chief technology officer before the promotion.
In a blog post announcing the move, Mr. Krafcik, 59, did not specify a reason for why he was stepping down at this moment other than to say he was pursuing “new adventures.” Waymo said it was Mr. Krafcik’s decision and that he plans to remain an adviser to the company.
Mr. Krafcik, a longtime auto industry executive who oversaw Hyundai Motor’s U.S. operations, joined Waymo in 2015 when it was still part of Google. During his tenure, Google spun out Waymo into a separate subsidiary of Alphabet, and the company raised more than $3 billion from outside investors in a move that signaled a greater independence from its parent company.
Google and Waymo have pursued self-driving car technology for more than a decade. Waymo has launched its own autonomous taxi service in the greater Phoenix area called Waymo One, and the company has struck partnerships with a handful of car manufacturers, including Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover, to build its self-driving technology into their vehicles.
Ms. Mawakana joined Waymo four years ago as the global head of policy and has been the company’s operating chief for the last two years. Before that she worked in policy positions at eBay, Yahoo and AOL.
Mr. Dolgov is one of the original employees who started Google’s self-driving car project in 2009 and is considered one of the leading technical experts in autonomous vehicle technology.
Tesla said on Friday that it more than doubled the number of cars…