By Robert A. Vella
The weekly report of unemployment claims released today by the U.S. Department of Labor far surpassed the expected number stunning economists across the nation. Even worse, the official figure certainly undercounts the true number of job losses because of logistical difficulties applicants are experiencing as state agencies are being swamped by the sheer volume of new claims. Still, today’s report is absolutely staggering which represents a figure approximately 10 times higher than the worst week of the Great Recession.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. (over 235,000) is now double that of the next worst country (Italy, at over 115,000). The coronavirus pandemic has so far claimed at least 50,000 lives worldwide from nearly 1 million confirmed cases. Considering that these numbers have not peaked yet, even though the resulting economic damage is now clearly evident, April 2020 appears destined to become one of the most gloomy months in modern human history.
The public pressure on President Trump keeps mounting and he is definitely feeling the heat, but he continues to resist pleas for a more coordinated national response to the pandemic. While it’s difficult to get inside such a convoluted and demented mind, there are some conclusions which can reasonably be drawn about his motives based both on his public persona and his official actions.
- Despite all his efforts to reshape the media narrative, the reality of COVID-19 is dominating the news over his insatiable ego. Trump is playing second-fiddle to a lowly virus.
- He is primarily concerned about getting reelected, but he is unsure about how to achieve it. The political playbook Trump has always relied upon seems inadequate now as these profound events have overtaken him.
- Trump still wants to play hardball politics. He still wants to exact loyalty and submission from everyone by abusing the executive power of the presidency. But, he is stubbornly aware that doing so during such a national emergency would turn the public even further away from him.
- Ideologically, Trump is motivated by both his unrestrained (some would say “criminal”) entrepreneurialism and his political party’s animosity towards a democratized federal government. Consequently, he is predisposed against using the executive branch to help unprivileged Americans. Whatever national actions he has taken, he was forced to take.
- Coronavirus is also depriving Trump of one of his best political assets – that is, foreign allies such as Russia. As the pandemic turns even forceful geopolitical actors like Vladimir Putin inward out of necessity, Trump is becoming increasingly isolated and that is inhibiting his typical audacity.
Today’s news stories:
The torrent of Americans filing for unemployment insurance skyrocketed last week as more than 6.6 million new claims were filed, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That brings to 10 million the total Americans who filed over the past two weeks.
The speed and scale of the job losses are without precedent. Until last month, the worst week for unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982. By shuttering businesses and forcing vast layoffs, the coronavirus outbreak has in two weeks wiped out more jobs than the worst months of the last recession.
The economic damage from the pandemic was initially concentrated in tourism, hospitality and related industries. But now the pain is spreading much more widely. The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday that the manufacturing sector, which had recently begun to recover from last year’s trade war, was contracting again. Data from the employment site ZipRecruiter shows a steep drop in job postings even in industries usually insulated from recessions, like education and health care.
The head of the World Health Organization has voiced deep concern over the “rapid escalation” and global spread of the new coronavirus pandemic, as the United States nears a grim milestone of 5,000 deaths.
“Over the past five weeks, we have witnessed a near exponential growth in the number of new cases, reaching almost every country, territory and area,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesuss told a virtual news conference at the organisation’s Geneva headquarters on Wednesday.
“The number of deaths has more than doubled in the past week. In the next few days we will reach 1 million confirmed cases, and 50,000 deaths,” he added.
Health experts say they now believe nearly one in three patients who are infected are nevertheless getting a negative test result. They caution that only limited data is available, and their estimates are based on their own experience in the absence of hard science.
That picture is troubling, many doctors say, as it casts doubt on the reliability of a wave of new tests developed by manufacturers, lab companies and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of these are operating with minimal regulatory oversight and little time to do robust studies amid a desperate call for wider testing.
The government’s emergency stockpile of respirator masks, gloves and other medical supplies is running low and is nearly exhausted due to the coronavirus outbreak, leaving the Trump administration and the states to compete for personal protective equipment in a freewheeling global marketplace rife with profiteering and price-gouging, according to Department of Homeland Security officials involved in the frantic acquisition effort.
As coronavirus hot spots flare from coast to coast, the demand for safety equipment — also known as personal protective equipment (PPE) — is both immediate and widespread, with health officials, hospital executives and governors saying that their shortages are critical and that health-care workers are putting their lives at risk while trying to help the surging number of patients.
There are few signs the Trump administration is making efforts to stop the export shipments or seize the supplies for use in U.S. hospitals, despite statements from Attorney General William P. Barr last week that U.S. wholesalers hoarding masks and other supplies would get “a knock on your door.”
A stockpile of 1.5 million expired N95 masks that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has in storage will be distributed to the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, CBP said in a statement.
The government has long viewed the national stockpile supplies as a holdover during an emergency so the government could buy time for manufacturers to boost output and for new supply chains to solidify, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.