A new estimate from economists at the St. Louis Fed project total COVID-19 Crisis employment reductions at 47 million people. That would translate into a 32.1% unemployment rate. To give some perspective that is significantly higher than the peak unemployment during the Great Depression (24.9%) and wildly higher than anything seen during the Great Recession (10%).
Here is an interesting data source projecting the scope and duration of the epidemic across the United States and within each individual state. I cannot speak to the accuracy or methodology. I am pointing it out to you because it’s the work of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research center attached to the University of Washington School of Medicine. In other words, these are credentialed, serious people. Whether they’re correct I cannot say. And I pass it on on that basis.
In times of crisis, the kind of economic data that is ordinarily only of interest to economists and finance pros draws more attention from the rest of us as we look for signs of what is going on, and what is to come. Last week’s jobless claims number, the highest in United States history, was a sobering look at what is in store economically.
This week we’ll get another round of jobless claims numbers, along with looks at manufacturing and service jobs that will help us understand the velocity and depth of the economic crisis we are facing.
Let me note one of the known unknowns we should be thinking about as we roll into the coming brutal weeks. We are looking at national statistics – infections, tests, fatalities, hospitalizations. But these are likely illusory. There really is no national outbreak. There’s a big New York outbreak which still dominates the national statistics and will have its own discrete dynamics. It seems very likely you will have a series of other regional and metropolitan area outbreaks unfolding across the country in the coming weeks. So the national numbers will be misleading. In epidemiological terms the US is more like Europe as a whole, rather than any individual country, especially when states are playing such an outsized role combating the disease because of a significantly distracted federal response.
So where is this headed? What is the endgame?
Nobody is talking about it.
While it’s in the preliminary stages of it’s investigation, the Justice Department is now looking into sketchy stock market transactions that at least two lawmakers made after receiving private briefings on the COVID-19 outbreak.
Like many of you I’ve struggled to make sense of the so many ways our world has changed, been upended over the last month. Beyond the personal, the emotional and the professional, a key question is how our society gets through the coming months. I don’t mainly mean the clinical or public health dimensions of the crisis. That’s largely the domain of science and public health. I mean the broader question of how our society maintains itself while we are grappling with that public health crisis.
American society has been addicted for decades to the metaphor of war to address various public problems – the war on crime, the war on drugs, the war on this or that disease. The metaphor has most often abetted all manner of bad policy and brutalizations of our society. But here I mean something more specific and I believe more grounded in concrete and important policy needs.
If you didn’t watch this afternoon’s Trump press conference, the one significant piece of news is that the President is extending his “15 Days to Slow the Spread” guidelines until the end of April. This essentially means he’s dropping the idea of ‘reopening the country’ any time soon. That this was even a question is appalling. And the President doesn’t even have this power. But it’s good that he’s dropped the idea, at least for now because at a minimum these fantasies confuse people about the reality of the danger. It appears that his public health advisors shared with him modeling which suggests that a final death toll in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 is now the optimistic scenario with a death toll ranging to one or two million is possible without aggressive social distancing and lockdown strategies.
British PM Boris Johnson, who tested positive for coronavirus last week, has short video here, praising the UK population’s coronavirus response, exhorting them to help protect the NHS and thanking some 20,000 health-care workers for returning to serve in the NHS during the crisis. But there’s an interesting little coda toward the end — something probably British viewers will catch more than Americans. He does a kind of anti-shout out to Margaret Thatcher, saying that what Britons’ response to the crisis has “already proved, is that there really is such a thing as society.”
Thanks to everyone who has been staying at home.
— Boris Johnson #StayHomeSaveLives (@BorisJohnson) March 29, 2020
This is certainly a reference to Thatcher’s claim — an encapsulation of her worldview — that “there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”
Staying mentally grounded has become increasingly difficult as COVID-19 continues to dominate the news cycle and our lives. Finding things to help distract ourselves and to get out of our heads for a little bit are a must, whether it’s a new hobby or skill, talking to family and friends, TV shows, movies or a good book. While we at TPM join much of the world in practicing social distancing, we asked our staff to share what books they’re reading while they cope with isolation.
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