‘I can’t believe people drink the Kool-Aid’

Another 2.4 million workers filed for unemployment last week as political squabbling over blue state bailouts, death toll counts, and prioritizing employer liabilities has put the next round of fiscal stimulus in limbo.

A piecemeal national approach to reopening the U.S. economy hasn’t helped the labor market so far. “The sharp rise in continuing claims the week before illustrates that the easing of lockdowns in many states has not yet resulted in any large-scale recall to work for those currently on temporary layoff,” wrote Capital Economics’ chief U.S. economist Paul Ashworth.

The strategy for reopening is far more critical than the timeline of states’ reopenings, says Carol Graham, author of the upcoming Brookings Institution report, “How division and vulnerability hamper our COVID response.”

Keeping Americans safe now will require trust in government leaders and a consistent message. “To turn a pandemic…into a political issue is so unconscionable. I can’t believe it, and I can’t believe people drink the Kool-aid,” Graham told Yahoo Finance referring to Republican governors that succumbed to political pressure and reopened their states’ economies without adequate safety measures. 

She singled out Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia for rushing to relax restrictions in a way that could jeopardize public safety. “The first thing [Gov. Kemp] opened up [was] tattoo parlors and massage [businesses],” she said. 

Graham criticizes the lack of a coherent federal level plan mandating how states should reopen their economies. She suggests that states should follow a strategy that allows people who could go to work safely to return to their workplaces, while keeping those who can work effectively from home at home. 

“Because all that does is slow down the amount of people on the streets, in the subway, on buses, that then again makes the virus not transmit as quickly,” she said adding, “You can be strategic about how you do this, you just need to be consistent, you need to have a message informed by science and then you can open up in a way that actually does help the economy get going without killing more people.”

More than 38 million Americans have now lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus shutdown. The layoffs are doubly painful for Americans, losing both their livelihood and health insurance which is often tied to their employment in the middle of a pandemic.

“I think the jobs numbers will get worse before they get better,” warned Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in a joint appearance before the Senate Banking Committee with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell this week. “I think June will be a very difficult quarter,” he said. 

Powell urged lawmakers to focus on providing the U.S. economy with more fiscal stimulus. “This is the biggest shock we’ve seen in living memory,” he said, “and the question looms in the air of, is [the fiscal response] enough?” 

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