Traditionally, the Atlanta Fed publishes an annual report that explores an economic issue that has been a focus for the Bank over the previous year. We normally publish the report around the time of the release of our audited financial statements. However, this year, we are dispensing with the lengthy essay. Instead, I will share a few thoughts on the extraordinary year that was 2020 and encourage you to explore the rest of our website for detail on the endeavors I will summarize. Let me first reiterate that we at the Atlanta Fed remain deeply concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on our staff and the communities we serve. I'll also stress that amid this global pandemic, we remain committed to serving the American people by doing the job Congress gave us—promoting maximum employment and stable prices and protecting the stability of the financial system.
In 2020, the Fed and nation grappled with a confluence of interrelated challenges: a relentless global pandemic, a steep economic downturn, and racial turmoil. All those forces in their way affected the Atlanta Fed and the Federal Reserve System. In fact, much of the work I will highlight responded directly to those factors and the real-world consequences that arose when they intersected: the pandemic and accompanying economic disruption hit minorities and low-income communities hardest, which in part helped bring about a renewed focus on racial equity. Our long-held strategic priority to foster economic mobility and resilience served us well here. The Atlanta Fed produced a range of conferences, webinars, surveys, research papers, and other programs devoted to the pandemic’s varied impacts and, importantly, how the nation might build a more inclusive and therefore more robust recovery and post-pandemic economy.
I highlight just a few of the many possible examples:
- We joined the 11 other Regional Reserve Banks in sponsoring a series of online conferences called Racism and the Economy examining deep-seated inequities that damage our economic potential and actions to dismantle structural racism. We kicked off the series in October, then followed up with an event in November looking at employment. We are continuing this series into 2021 and will focus on other areas such as education, housing, and the lack of diversity in the field of economics.
- Meanwhile, the Atlanta Fed's Community and Economic Development (CED) unit intensified efforts to survey the pandemic’s particularly cruel impacts on low- to moderate-income communities. Our team held numerous webinars throughout the year examining concerns such as the survival of small and minority-owned businesses.
- The Atlanta Fed’s Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity conducted research and formed alliances designed to sharpen workforce development systems as the nation’s labor force faces generational challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.
Moreover, each of the Atlanta Fed's other business units raised their game to ensure that the Federal Reserve delivered on its mission of supporting the economy.
- In the early days of the 2020 economic crisis, the Fed’s Retail Payments Office, based at the Atlanta Fed, swiftly distributed tens of millions of relief checks to struggling Americans as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act. Cash handling teams reconfigured shifts to safeguard against infections to keep currency flowing.
- The Atlanta Fed law enforcement and facilities staffs likewise adapted their onsite protocols and practices under demanding circumstances.
- Our Regional Economic Information Network team redoubled efforts to gather grassroots intelligence from business leaders and nonprofit organizations across the Southeast. This real-time information was critical in adding texture to aggregate data and helping us gauge the economy’s direction amid extraordinary uncertainty.
- Our research economists quickly shifted focus to dissect the pandemic's broad economic and financial toll and to help craft evidence-based solutions.
- The Atlanta Fed's Supervision, Regulation, and Credit staff worked with and encouraged lenders to work with their customers, offering forbearance so that the pain of the pandemic did as little lasting damage to families and businesses as possible. They implemented regulatory changes designed to help lenders withstand the pandemic downturn and held webinars to inform bankers about those adjustments. Policy specialists also took part in painstaking Fed System efforts to reform the Community Reinvestment Act, the keystone law encouraging lenders to meet the credit needs of borrowers in all segments of their communities.
The year 2020 was undeniably difficult. Nearly half a million Americans died because of COVID-19, including beloved members of our Atlanta Fed staff. As I write, in February, the nation faces grave short and longer-term economic challenges. Nearly half of the 22 million jobs lost last March and April have not returned, and increasing numbers are unlikely to ever come back in their old form. Millions of families face food and housing insecurity.
Yet there is reason for optimism. Americans' flexibility and persistence helped families endure and businesses and nonprofits rapidly adapt to survive. Sweeping fiscal and monetary policy actions cushioned the economy and financial system from even more severe and lasting damage.
The nation's ingenuity and energy produced remarkable biomedical advances at spectacular speeds, resulting in vaccinations becoming increasingly available. Beyond their promise to halt the remorseless spread of the coronavirus, these medicines will ultimately play a central role in helping revive sectors of the economy that have effectively been paralyzed.
We also see positive signs that our nation is beginning to confront the corrosive effects of systemic racism: the message that an inclusive economy that works for everyone is a more prosperous economy is no longer a fringe notion. While uncertainties remain and our challenges are daunting, our nation possesses the ingenuity and energy to overcome them. Please join my colleagues and me as we do our part to make our country and economy stronger in 2021 and in the years to come.
Raphael W. Bostic
President and CEO
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta