WASHINGTON: The staggering US unemployment rate reported by the government on Friday amid coronavirus lockdowns may get even worse, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday.
“The reported numbers are probably going to get worse before they get better,” Mnuchin told the Fox News Sunday program.
The unemployment rate surged to 14.7 percent in April, the Department of Labor reported. That shattered the post-World War Two record of 10.8 percent touched in November 1982.
Mnuchin indicated the White House was talking about more fiscal measures to ease the economic pain from the pandemic. But he said the federal government did not want to bail out states that were “poorly” managed.
However, economic adviser Larry Kudlow expressed optimism that the US economy would register a sharp recovery in the second half of the year, with Kudlow predicting “a tremendous snapback” in 2021.
Kudlow was asked on ABC’s “This Week” how US businesses could reopen with confidence when the White House — where virus protections are far more rigorous than most Americans enjoy — has recently seen at least two staff members infected.
Those cases, Kudlow said, represented a “small fraction” of the 500 or so staff members working in the White House complex.
He added that the combination of federal and state guidelines, coupled with private-sector innovation, should allow relatively safe reopening.
But he emphasized that the bottom-line responsibility would be not on government but on individual businesses.
“I think that businesses, large and small, are probably going to wind up leading this charge as we attempt to reopen the economy,” he said.
Both Kudlow and Mnuchin stressed that undue delay in reopening would also come at a cost.
“I think there’s a considerable risk of NOT reopening,” the Treasury secretary said on Fox.
“You’re talking about what would be permanent economic damage to the American public, and we’re going to reopen in a very thoughtful way that gets people back to work safely.”
Kudlow, pushing back on reports of growing partisan tensions over another tranche of emergency relief, said informal talks with Democrats were under way.
But both he and Mnuchin emphasized the need to move with caution.
“We just want to make sure that before we jump back in and spend another few trillion of taxpayers’ money, that we do it carefully,” Mnuchin said.
The White House has some of the most rigorous precautions of any US venue at the moment. The president, vice president and many others are tested daily.
But President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have frequently defied the government’s own guidance about wearing protective masks.
Three members of the White House’s coronavirus task force — including top expert Anthony Fauci — are now self-isolating after potential exposure to the pathogen, US media reported Saturday.
Officials confirmed Friday that Pence’s press secretary had tested positive for the virus.
Earlier in the week, a White House valet who served Trump tested positive.