WASHINGTON — The global economy is rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic faster than previously expected, largely thanks to the strength of the United States. But the International Monetary Fund warned on Tuesday that an uneven rollout of vaccines posed a threat to the recovery, as the fortunes of rich and poor countries diverge.
The global dynamic echoes the “K-shaped” recoveries that are playing out worldwide. While many wealthy nations are poised for a major economic expansion this year, other nations’ struggles could reverse decades of progress in fighting poverty. Top international economic officials warned this week that this divergence, which is being amplified by sluggish deployment of vaccines in developing countries, is a threat to stability and long-term growth.
“Economic fortunes within countries and across countries are diverging dangerously,” Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the I.M.F., said at a panel discussion on Tuesday during the annual spring meetings of the fund and the World Bank.
This week, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen emphasized that point, saying in a speech that the inability of low- and middle-income countries to invest in robust inoculation programs could result in “a deeper and longer-lasting crisis, with mounting problems of indebtedness, more entrenched poverty and growing inequality.”
upgrading its global growth forecast for the year thanks to vaccinations of hundreds of millions of people, efforts that are expected to help fuel a sharp economic rebound. It now expects the global economy to expand by 6 percent this year, up from its previous projection of 5.5 percent, after a contraction of 3.3 percent in 2020.
The wealthiest countries are leading the way out of the crisis, particularly the United States, whose economy is now projected to expand by 6.4 percent in 2021. The euro area is expected to expand by 4.4 percent and Japan is forecast to expand by 3.3 percent, according to the I.M.F.
Among emerging market and developing economies, China and India are expected to drive growth. China’s economy is projected to expand by 8.4 percent, offering its own significant boost to overall global growth, and India’s is expected to expand by 12.5 percent.
But within advanced economies, low-skilled workers have been hit the hardest and those who lost jobs could find it difficult to replace them. And low-income countries are facing bigger losses in economic output than advanced economies, reversing gains in poverty reduction and risking long-lasting pandemic-era scars.
Emerging market economies in many cases have fewer resources for fiscal stimulus, vaccine investments and labor force retraining — factors that put them at risk of falling behind and getting stuck as the world starts its rebound.
Researchers at the I.M.F. pointed out in a recent blog post that it was important that rates on U.S. debt are rising because of a strengthening economic outlook, one that will benefit many economies by stoking demand for their exports. Still, “countries that export less to the United States yet rely more on external borrowing could feel financial market stress.”
Most U.S. officials have focused on how stronger domestic growth could actually help the rest of the world as American consumers buy foreign goods and services. “This year the U.S. looks like it’s going to be a locomotive for the global economy,” Richard H. Clarida, the vice chair of the Fed, said during a recent speech.
Ms. Yellen made a similar argument on Tuesday during a panel discussion at the I.M.F., at which she urged countries not to let up on fiscal support.
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“Stronger growth in the U.S. is going to spill over positively to the entire global outlook and we are going to be careful to learn the lessons of the financial crisis, which is ‘don’t withdraw support too quickly,’” she said.
There are risks that spillovers could work the other way — slower vaccination progress abroad could come to weigh on American and global improvement. While roughly 500 doses of the vaccine have been administered per 1,000 people in the United States, based on New York Times vaccination data, that number is about 1 per 1,000 in Mali and Afghanistan.