Several top Trump administration officials on Sunday continued to predict dire, Depression-era unemployment numbers for the month of May, days after the official US jobless rate surged for the month of April amid the coronavirus crisis.
On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the US economy lost 20.5 million jobs in April, with the unemployment rate reaching 14.7% that month. And Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin gave an even steeper figure on Sunday when asked in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” where unemployment stands after taking into account the people who filed claims after the latest report stopped around the middle of the month.
Mnuchin, asked by Fox’s Chris Wallace whether “we (are) talking close to 25% at this point, which is Great Depression neighborhood,” responded, “We could be,” adding that the administration expects the numbers to improve in the coming months.
“But let me just emphasize, unlike the Great Depression where your economic issues that led to this, we closed down the economy,” Mnuchin said. “So it wouldn’t be a surprise if you closed down the economy that in half of the workforce, half the people didn’t work.”
President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, Kevin Hassett, continued to paint a dark picture for future unemployment, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” Sunday that the rate will “probably” be “close to 20%” in the May jobs report.
The comments come as some states begin to reopen their economies amid the coronavirus pandemic, which brought much of the country’s economy to a halt earlier this year as officials worked to curb the spread of the virus. Hassett noted the unemployment rate for May will depend on what happens with the virus and the economy as some states start to reopen.
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Larry Kudlow, the chairman of the White House’s National Economic Council, said Sunday that he expects May to see “very difficult numbers,” but also sought to call attention to what he called “a glimmer of hope” in the data for Americans to return to work.
“As bad as those (April) job numbers were – and I don’t want to sugarcoat it, because I think the numbers for May are going to be also very difficult numbers. It’s going to take a while for the reopening to have an impact. So, there’s that,” Kudlow said during an interview on ABC. “The second point is, inside the numbers, there’s a glimmer of hope. I don’t want to downplay the numbers, mind you, but there’s a glimmer of hope.”
“We had – about 80% of it was furloughs and temporary layoffs. That, by the way, doesn’t assure that you will go back to a job, but it suggests strongly that the cord between the worker and the business is still intact,” he added, crediting Congress’ economic stimulus efforts, like the Paycheck Protection Program.
CNN’s Anneken Tappe contributed to this report.