Did Irene batter the economy — or save it?

Repairing the storm's damage will cost the East Coast billions, but that spending might just give the sputtering economy the jolt it needs

Children watch workers remove plywood from a restaurant in lower Manhattan Sunday: The hurricane may provide some temporary clean-up work, but tourism also took a hit.
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Although Hurricane Irene caused less damage than feared, the storm may still be responsible for up to $13 billion in property losses. When lost business dollars and other factors are tallied, total economic losses could be double that figure, making Irene the eighth most financially damaging hurricane on record. Will Irene's economic blow knock out the already faltering recovery, or will the rebuilding effort provide just the stimulus we need to avert another recession?

Economically, Irene is arguably a blessing in disguise: "Irene struck at a delicate moment," says Josh Boak at Politico. And there's no denying that the power outages and shuttered airports clogged the "engines of commerce for several days." But this won't be the "body blow" to the economy some fear; in fact, it should provide billions in short-term stimulus spending just when we need it most.

"Hurricane Irene an economic blow or boost?"

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This storm won't help anyone: You're dreaming if you think Irene will save the economy, says Daniel Indiviglio at The Atlantic. "Any short-term boost is just that: short-term." The new jobs will disappear once the repairs are done, and local governments forced to shell out for rebuilding efforts might have to cut spending (and jobs) elsewhere as a result. "Ultimately, the insurance companies, government, and consumers will all be worse off."

"Sorry, Hurricane Irene won't speed up the U.S. recovery"

At best, Irene is a mixed bag: A storm like this might help the bottom line of Home Depot and Lowes, says Marianne Bickle at Forbes, but for other businesses, it "definitely harms more than helps." Shutting down for just one day can be devastating for small businesses. The pain will only intensify as customers stay away, or spend their limited cash on their own repairs. This is another blow to the nation's confidence at precisely the wrong time.

"Hurricane Irene beats up the Northeast and the fragile U.S. economy"

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