The Labor Department reported this week that the unemployment rate has hit a record 14.7%, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday that the actual rate could be closer to 25%.
The latter figure would match the joblessness rate during the Great Depression, which is estimated to have peaked at 24.9% in 1933.
On “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace asked Mnuchin about the Labor Department’s report, which excluded the 7 million jobs lost since April 18, the millions of people not currently looking for work, and people who are underemployed.
Wallace noted that a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the rate actually hit 22.8% in April. That report accounted for workers not looking for jobs and the underemployed; however, it did not include the millions of jobs lost after mid-April.
“Aren’t we talking close to 25% at this point, which is Great Depression neighborhood?” Wallace asked.
“Chris, we could be,” Mnuchin said. “But let me just emphasize: Unlike the Great Depression where you had economic issues that led to this, we closed down the economy. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if you closed down the economy that in half of the workforce, half the people didn’t work.”
He continued: “That’s why we’re very focused on rebuilding this economy and getting back to where it was. This is no fault of American business. This no fault of American workers. This is the result of a virus. ... You are correct. The reported numbers are probably going to get worse before they get better.”
White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett told CBS’ “Face The Nation” in an interview that aired Sunday that the unemployment rate could climb to “north” of 20% because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused businesses across the country to shut down.
“The fact is we’re burning up initial claims for unemployment insurance right now at a rate of about 3 million a week running through the rest of the month,” he said.
President Donald Trump and some Republican governors have been pushing to rapidly reopen the U.S. economy, bucking some of the federal guidelines for doing so that Trump himself announced last month.
Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said Sunday that social distancing measures should eventually loosen, but not until certain criteria are met.
“We can’t stay locked down for 18 months,” he told NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “But at the same time, when you have cases increasing, deaths increasing, health care workers without adequate protective equipment and we’re suddenly going back to what was once our normal lives ― that’s not a safe place to be.”
“We can’t do that and not expect to see a major increase in cases,” he added.
As of Sunday, there are more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At least 78,800 people nationwide have died.
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