Trump administration officials warned on Sunday that US unemployment could worsen dramatically in the coming months, with the jobless rate climbing beyond 20 per cent.
The warnings follow grim labour market data on Friday, which showed a postwar unemployment high of 14.7 per cent, and come as the US weighs the economic consequences of maintaining coronavirus restrictions.
“I think there’s a considerable risk of not reopening, you’re talking about what would be permanent economic damage to the American public,” Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, told Fox News Sunday.
“We’re going to reopen in a very thoughtful way that gets people back to work safely, that has them social distance,” he said.
Mr Mnuchin acknowledged that unemployment could climb to as high as 25 per cent. Such a figure would put the current jobs crisis on a par with the Great Depression. “The reported numbers are probably going to get worse before they get better,” he said.
Kevin Hassett, White House economic adviser, reiterated that the unemployment rate was likely to reach “north of 20 per cent”, while Larry Kudlow, White House National Economic Council director, acknowledged that the administration was bracing for “very difficult” economic data for the month of May.
The dilemma of when to begin lifting restrictions was underscored over the weekend when it emerged that Dr Anthony Fauci, one of the top US health officials, had entered “modified quarantine” after coming into “low risk” contact with someone who had contracted the virus.
The doctor shared the news with CNN, but did not give further details. Dr Fauci is one of several top US officials who have entered quarantine after saying they had come into contact with a person who had tested positive for the virus. Other officials in quarantine include Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
None of them identified which person they had come into contact with. However, Katie Miller, press secretary for vice-president Mike Pence, on Friday was confirmed to have tested positive for the virus, and has worked closely with the rest of the coronavirus task force. A valet for Mr Trump also tested positive.
The National Institute of Health said Mr Fauci’s “modified quarantine” would entail working for home for 14 days, wearing a mask and being tested daily for the virus.
Dr Fauci, Dr Redfield and Dr Hahn were all due to testify before the Senate on Tuesday about the best way to safely reopen the country’s workforce and schools. Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate health committee, said steps had been taken to allow those in quarantine to testify remotely.
“At the moment, there’s daily testing, as you may know, for people who come into contact with the president and the vice-president,” Larry Kudlow, White House National Economic Council director, told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
“Everybody wants to be safe. We’re going to do the best we can. We will follow the rules and guidelines of the White House medical unit.”
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said: “The president’s physician and White House operations continue to work closely to ensure every precaution is taken to keep the president, the first family and the entire White House complex safe and healthy at all times.”
He added: “In addition to social distancing, daily temperature checks and symptom histories, hand sanitiser and regular deep cleaning of all work spaces, every staff member in close proximity to the president and vice-president is being tested daily for Covid-19 as well as guests.”