The bleakest one-time jobs data in American history – 3.28 million people filed for unemployment last week – shows why even a $2 trillion rescue bill can’t save the economy and explains the fear in Washington is already provoking calls for a new plan.
The staggering new Labor Department figures are a devastating indication of the impact of the deliberate shutting down of the economy to stem the coronavirus pandemic. They also show that the huge scale of the rescue plan that cleared the Senate late Wednesday is not only justified – it is likely far too small.
It helps explain the mood of fear that cloaked the US Capitol in recent days as lawmakers frantically worked to put a floor under the economy – the basic foundation of American life. It may also fuel President Donald Trump’s impatience to get business moving again, even if the coronavirus is not fully under control, to avoid further crippling economic damage.
The human tragedy of the pandemic is being played out in growing lists of lost family members and the courage of medical professionals saving lives behind closed hospital doors. But the jobs number shows that millions of Americans who have not yet got sick are also reeling from the devastating impact of the worst domestic crisis since World War II.
The rescue bill’s staggering size is the most public expression of the historic scale of the coronavirus disaster and the fragility of the systems that sustain American life. After all, in a matter of days, an economy powering ahead at historic rates suddenly needed a bill to plug a hole equal to 10% of US gross domestic product after the crisis swept away the complacency of a decade of economic expansion and perpetually rising stock markets.
The breakneck speed at which the bill came together in a capital fractured by vicious divides is an example of rare compromise in the bitter aftermath of impeachment. But it also reflects the motivating power inherent in the threat of economic implosion.
Thirdly, and perhaps most concerning, are signs that the biggest economic rescue measure in history won’t be nearly sufficient to nurse the economy through the dark months to come.
Leaders on all sides are clear that the package is a stopgap to get through the next few months – and will not revive the economy without another huge cash injection.
“If we have to go back, we have to go back,” President Donald Trump told reporters on Wednesday, but he said he was hopeful the package would support the economy for “a long time.”
The question of how much more will be needed cannot be answered until the virus reaches its peak nationwide and public health authorities give the green light to slowly reopen America’s shuttered businesses.