April 3, 2020

America’s Epidemic of Economic Misery

The March jobs report doesn’t fully reflect the bloodbath in the employment market.

Remember the heady days of … February 2020? The United States had experienced an unprecedented 113 straight months of job growth, culminating with a strong three-month average of creating 243,000 jobs per month and a headline unemployment rate of 3.5%. In fact, businesses were giving raises left and right and reporting that their biggest problem was finding qualified workers to fill open positions.

Now that seems like a lifetime ago.

While it’s incredibly fortunate that our economy was as strong as it was, the coronavirus pandemic has hit hard.

On Thursday, reported jobless claims obliterated last week’s record-shattering numbers: Another 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment, meaning 10 million are out of work in just two weeks. That’s 10 times the previous two-week record. As Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey observed, “It took months to add up jobless claims to eight figures in the Great Recession, and the problem is that we might still have a month or so to go before we can start reopening the economy.”

Today’s jobs report is bleak. The Labor Department says payrolls fell by 701,000 jobs, while headline unemployment rose almost a full point to 4.4%. The discrepancy is because of the way jobs reports are compiled. Effectively, anyone paid halfway through the month is counted as “employed” in the month’s report — even if they lost their job later in the month. Thus, when massive layoffs and furloughs happened after that mid-month payroll, those millions of Americans weren’t counted as unemployed for March numbers. The March data itself was corrupted by coronavirus. The Labor Department explained, “The household survey is generally collected through in-person and telephone interviews, but personal interviews were suspended during the collection period for the safety of interviewers and respondents.”

The numeric bloodbath will come in April’s report.

Morrissey, however, also offers a reason for optimism: “This is a result of a deliberate shuttering of a strong economy. This is not a structural failure, as in 2008-9, which means that we have more hope of a quick bounceback when things return to normal. The longer it takes to get there, though, the more damage that will be done and will be tougher to overcome.”

That is why we desperately need an exit strategy from the current shutdown protocols.

On a disturbing note, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the leading experts on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, called 10 million job losses “inconvenient.” He insisted of the economic shutdown that “we just have to do it,” while saying “I just don’t understand why” every single state hasn’t yet issued stay-at-home orders. (Five states have no orders of any kind, and another seven have more localized guidance.)

Remember that Dr. Fauci is an academician/physician and government-agency head (since 1984) — which is to say his views, while very informed from the medical perspective, are not tempered by other realities, like the economic implications for American workers and their families. Even with that in mind, his remarks were remarkably out of touch with the concerns of millions of Americans who have to put food on the table. We certainly understand the importance of efforts to mitigate the viral spread. Our team is working from home and sheltering in place. But we also are acutely aware of how this affects our families and neighbors. Beltway jobs like Dr. Fauci’s are going to be just fine. The rest of America? That remains to be seen.

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