Our nation remains in an unprecedented economic and public health crisis, and recent pandemic developments underscore this will be an extremely prolonged catastrophe in the absence of dramatic policy changes. Today’s unemployment rate fell to “only” 11.1 percent as we added 4.8 million jobs in June before reversing reopening. This is still the highest monthly unemployment rate our country has seen since the Great Depression, the last two months aside. And because the data for this jobs report were collected during the week of June 7, this number does not represent the economic chaos of the past few weeks, caused by the Trump administration encouraging states to reopen for business as usual while ignoring the public health crisis. Many more people will be out of work next week than three weeks ago.
Since the data were collected, coronavirus cases have increased by more than 80 percent. Hundreds of thousands of people have fallen ill, thousands have died, millions have filed for unemployment insurance, and at least 16 states have had to reverse or pause their reopenings. Some workers, rehired for just a few weeks, have been laid off yet again.
The top-line unemployment number, and reported job gains over the last two months, also obscures much of the deep economic pain being felt throughout this country. The broadest measure of unemployment, which includes workers who were unwillingly forced into part-time work, remained near 20 percent for a third consecutive month. The top-line number also does not convey how unevenly job loss is being felt. People of color are disproportionately bearing the brunt of job losses. The unemployment rates for Asian Americans (13.8 percent), Black or African Americans (15.4 percent), and Hispanic or Latinos (14.5 percent) were all higher than the overall rate. Latinos will likely face more adversity from states reversing premature reopenings, as Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas are each among the most heavily Latino states in the country.
Separately, this morning, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 1.4 million people have filed for unemployment insurance over the past week. This is the 15th consecutive week of claims exceeding 1 million. There are still clear backlogs in the system, and we are likely to see the effects of the COVID-19 resurgence increasingly drag on these data in the coming few weeks.
With state and municipal budget deadlines this week, emergency unemployment benefits set to expire this month, and an unemployment rate north of 11 percent, we are careening toward locking in the effects of this deep economic crisis for years to come. The Trump administration and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) magical thinking cannot make this go away. What is required is another broad public health and economic package such as the HEROES Act, with targeted aid for hospitals, workers, teachers, first responders, and other government workers, that reduces aid as the economy recovers. Anything less would cause unmitigated economic harm for years to come.