Today’s employment report is a disaster. Next month’s will be a bigger disaster. Based on data collected March 8–14 as employed, the U.S. Labor Department estimates we lost 701,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate rose by almost a full percentage point to 4.4 percent. This is the baseline we were at before 10 million Americans filed for unemployment over the last two weeks.
These data are bleak. President Donald Trump’s delayed and chaotic response to the coronavirus pandemic is decimating our economy. It didn’t have to come to this, but even more urgently, the Trump administration needs to learn from its mistakes and take much more aggressive action to address this pandemic. That will be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to limit the economic damage ahead.
The coronavirus crisis has exposed and exacerbated preexisting weaknesses in the Trump economy. U.S. manufacturing has been in a recession since last year, and wage growth was slowing, despite all the promises made about the Trump tax cuts. The number of Americans without health insurance was rising, largely due to Trump administration policies. The economy was not at full employment, especially for Black, Latinx, and disabled workers. Now these workers are among the most likely to have lost their jobs.
Trump’s dithering and denialism of the pandemic has already caused mass unemployment and will cause hundreds of thousands of deaths—sending the economy into its steepest dive since the Great Depression. The staggering economic and health toll was preventable. Countries that contained their own COVID-19 outbreaks quickly saved lives—and are doing less damage to their economies.
The first thing the Trump administration can do for the economy is to take aggressive action to deal with the public health crisis. The administration should offer states clear guidance on the need to enforce stay-at-home orders; ramp up mass testing and contact tracing; expand health coverage; and utilize the Defense Production Act to manufacture necessary protection gear and medical equipment.
There can be little doubt, Trump must now work with Congress to create a fourth economic relief package that supports critical health needs and an unprecedented number of laid-off workers and families, rather than large corporations.