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.