President Donald Trump’s self-congratulation on the economy, when unemployment remains well above the height of the Great Recession, is troubling—all the more so because he and Republican leaders in Congress seek to shut off the federal aid that has thus far helped prevent an even worse crisis and refuse to prepare for a second wave of the coronavirus.
While the data released this morning will take time to parse, a 13.3 percent unemployment rate is very simply nothing to celebrate: It is the second-highest on record and indicates an economy in profound distress. And, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these numbers likely understate the official unemployment rate by about 3 percentage points due to the difficulty of surveying during a pandemic. The broadest measure of underemployment, U-6—which includes involuntary part-time workers—suggests more than 20 percent of Americans are out of work or underemployed.
The bottom line is tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs over the past few months. There is strong evidence to indicate that the damage will be long-lasting. This week, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the current recession will lead to a loss of $15.7 trillion in gross domestic product over the next decade and that unemployment rates will remain above 8 percent at least through 2021. International comparisons show that the U.S. economy did not have to be here. South Korea, which had its first COVID-19 case on the same day as the United States but responded far more aggressively and effectively, stands with an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent.
The top-line unemployment number of 13.3 percent belies even more staggering unemployment rates and job losses for Black and Latinx workers, who are already not receiving a fair share of economic gains under the last expansion. Their unemployment rates stand at 16.8 percent and 17.8 percent, respectively, and Black workers did not share in the decline of unemployment rates this month. Women of color face even worse job discrimination. The unemployment rate for Black women increased slightly to 16.5 percent, while that of Latinas now stands at 19 percent. These numbers only begin to quantify the extreme economic pain caused by the Trump administration’s chaotic and inadequate leadership over the past few months and how he has continuously turned a blind eye to the plight of so many—particularly people of color in the United States.
In contrast to the private sector, state and local governments shed 550,000 jobs this month, and more than 1 million public educators lost jobs in the last two months, demonstrating that the need for ongoing state and local government support remains extreme. Despite dire economic forecasts and growing signs of crises for state and local governments, the Trump administration has done little to address either the public health or economic crisis the country is facing.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion relief bill—the HEROES Act—that would provide aid to struggling small businesses, cash-strapped states and municipalities, and families trying to put food on their tables. The Trump administration is seeking to end the emergency unemployment benefits for the more than 42 million newly unemployed Americans that expire at the end of next month, rather than extend them.
President Trump’s inaction on both the coronavirus pandemic and the economy stands in sharp contrast to the swiftness with which he incited violence against U.S. citizens protesting police brutality toward Black Americans, threatening to use the U.S. military against his fellow citizens, and then tear gassing peaceful protesters so that he could stage a photo op in front of a sacred place of worship.
It is long past time for the administration to reconcile with the ways it is actively harming the country and its people, recognize the disparate impact on people of color, and come together to protect, rather than threaten, people’s well-being and their lives.