Leading up to Election Day, the last glimpse many American voters will have of economic recovery across U.S. metropolitan areas is one of tepid and uneven progress. COVID-19 infections have been rising over the past few weeks, hitting a seven-day record of more than 500,000 cases last week. Alongside this alarming trend, monthly indicators point to rising uncertainty around the pace of economic improvement.

To some extent, experts predicted a fall/winter surge in COVID-19 cases. However, as the reality of a worsening pandemic sets in, so do concerns that actions to fight COVID-19’s spread could derail an already tentative economic recovery. Brookings’s Metro Recovery Index tracks the economic trajectory of large and midsized metropolitan areas around the country. During September, some of the Index’s labor market and economic activity indicators improved, but several others stagnated or worsened.

Across 154 metro areas for which data exists, initial applications for unemployment insurance dropped 7% in September from their level in August. Most metro areas (119 of the 154) saw decreases in initial claims over the month, suggesting an improving hiring outlook in most regions.

Similarly, unemployment rates declined in a majority (117 of 191) of metro areas between August and September. Even so, 16 metro areas saw no change. And in 58 metro areas predominantly located in the Sun Belt, unemployment rates increased in September. This may reflect more of their residents reentering the labor market to look for work, but finding few opportunities.

Notwithstanding some variation across the map, September ushered in a new, more uncertain phase of the economic recovery after a summer characterized by relatively steady progress. As COVID-19 cases reached new peaks in October across a wide range of states, the overall economic mood in metropolitan America may be souring.

Read the full article about the stagnating COVID-19 economic recovery at Brookings.