Nationwide Economic Consequences of an Auto Strike

Mr. Zandi said a six-week strike would have a “measurable but ultimately modest” effect on overall gross domestic product, perhaps a decline of two- or three-tenths of a percentage point. But he said damage would start to mount, given economic headwinds like rising interest rates, the return of student-loan repayments and a potential government shutdown in October.

If the strike lasted through the end of the year, Mr. Zandi said, “that would be enough to push this economy close to the edge of a recession, given everything else that’s going on.”

A 40-day strike against General Motors in 2019 had limited economic effects. One key difference this time is inventories. Total domestic car inventories, which includes new and used cars, have increased from a record low in February 2022 but are less than a quarter of what they were in September 2019.

“In 2019, General Motors could look at their inventory and say, ‘We can take a 10-day strike, and hardly anybody who wants one of our cars is going to be unable to get it,” said Patrick Anderson, the principal and chief executive of the Anderson Economic Group. “That’s not the case in 2023.”

A strike could also have a spillover effect on the automotive supply chain. Gabriel Ehrlich, an economic forecaster at the University of Michigan, said the automakers’ suppliers — the businesses that make brakes, headlights and catalytic converters — would begin to be felt after about two weeks, with employers cutting back on employment and, as a result, those laid-off workers reducing their own spending.

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