Some 2.4 million people filed jobless claims just last week, bringing the total to around 38 million jobless claims due to the economic catastrophe unleashed by the novel coronavirus. Some analysts predict the unemployment rate could top 30 percent, which is higher than during the Great Depression.
That has set off debate over whether to extend the additional $600 weekly in unemployment assistance that Congress passed in March (that’s on top of conventional benefits), which extends through July.
Trump and Republicans are opposing an extension, arguing too much help will discourage the jobless from returning to work — never mind that the economy is largely in deliberate deep freeze, to limit the coronavirus’s spread. Democrats, by contrast, argue that an extension is urgent for precisely that reason, and because this rolling calamity will only get far worse.
We now have a state-by-state breakdown of job losses, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it turns out the carnage in the battleground states is truly severe.
One set of numbers from the BLS shows the total jobs lost from the end of March to the end of April. That’s not entirely up to date, since we’re in mid-May, but it captures the massive scale of the shocks that convulsed the economy as it closed down, according to Mark Muro, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, who crunched these numbers for me.
The chart shows the total number of jobs in each state as of the end of March, and then as of the end of April. Then it shows the total job loss, followed by the percentage drop:
As you can see, the devastation is extraordinary. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida all lost over 1 million jobs each, and Ohio came very close to that. Michigan lost over one-fifth of its jobs — a massive blow, and Pennsylvania almost did, too.
North Carolina lost over half a million jobs; Georgia lost almost that many; and Wisconsin isn’t far behind. Biden almost certainly won’t make Georgia that close, but that state has a competitive Senate race, as does North Carolina (which will also be contested in the presidential election).
“This has large implications for the current standoff over unemployment support,” Muro told me. He added that such high levels of joblessness will drain state budgets, meaning this has major implications for the debate over delivering more fiscal aid to those states, as well.
Muro suggested that such epic job losses in the battlegrounds “could scramble the political map,” and could lead to more “pressure on senators to release more aid as soon as possible.”
The debate right now is in an extremely strange place. Some Senate Republicans are privately conceding that they will likely have to act to extend aid in some way.
But Trump appears dead-set against this, even though it’s often argued he does not share the same ideological aversion to government help for the economically devastated that many conventional Republicans and conservatives do. So holds the mythology of his “economic populism,” anyway.
Maybe Trump is so convinced he can dramatically ramp up the economy again through sheer force of will and tweet — even though he’s failed to scale up robust testing, making it less likely people feel safe to resume activity — that he doesn’t want to even act as if urgent new infusions of aid are needed.
Or perhaps Trump simply cannot accept the leadership role of telling Americans things will be hard for a good long time, because this would be an admission of failure. As Paul Krugman puts it:
Trump can’t get beyond boosterism, insisting that everything is great on his watch. And he’s clearly still obsessed with the stock market as the measure of his presidency.
What’s galling about this, as Krugman also notes, is that, for all the problems the government is having in delivering rescue money, it does appear to be helping to replace people’s incomes and softening extreme economic hardship.
If we’re really dealing with such pathologies on Trump’s part, perhaps the only thing that can puncture this bubble is the threat these massive job losses pose to his reelection chances.
Or maybe Trump can just tweet all these people back into employment instead.
Watch Opinions videos: