Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Washington, as President Donald Trump looks on. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
As the nation is facing an increasingly dire economic situation along with climbing unemployment numbers, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin gave Americans some much-needed positive news on Thursday. In an appearance on CNBC, he indicated that the economy could reopen in May.
When host Jim Cramer asked the Secretary if he believed the U.S. could open the economy next month, Mnuchin replied: “I do.” He continued, “I think as soon as the President feels comfortable with the medical issues, we are making everything necessary that American companies and American workers can be open for business and that they have the liquidity to operate their business in the interim.”
President Donald Trump also expressed optimism earlier this week when he said that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel” after the virus peaks in April. He did not give a solid date as to when the economy could reopen, but intimated that it could happen in the near future.
Businesses have suffered over the past month due to social distancing policies that typically allow only essential companies to remain open. These measures are designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but it has had a deleterious impact on many people’s livelihoods.
The challenge for the White House is balancing the needs of the economy with medical concerns over the spread of the virus. Health experts have warned that reopening business too early might cause another spike in deaths. They suggest that the United States should only restart its economy when there is a sustained decline in coronavirus cases to ensure that hospitals will not become overwhelmed.
So far, Trump has listened to the medical experts, but he has also indicated that the U.S. shouldn’t allow “the cure to be worse than the problem.” On Wednesday, he told reporters that “we have to be on that downside of that slope and heading to a very strong direction that this thing is gone. We could do it in phases.”
But the rising unemployment numbers are a clear indicator that the nation probably cannot sustain its social distancing policies for much longer. According to Labor Department data released on Thursday, about 6.6 million Americans filed new applications for unemployment benefits in the first week of April.
In the last two weeks of March, over 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits as businesses were compelled to temporarily shut down because of the virus. The unemployment rate increased from 3.5% in February to 4.4% at present, which is the most significant jump since January 1975.
S&P Global Ratings Chief Economist Beth Ann Bovino said that the unemployment rate could get as high as 15% by the time April’s report is released. “America is now in a recession and as it appears to deepen, the question is how long it will take before the U.S. recovers and we see a bounce-back both in terms of jobs and GDP,” she asserted in a Wednesday research memo.
As of Thursday morning, the count of American COVID-19 cases rose to more than 430,000. The death toll has increased to nearly 15,000. The number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. is expected to peak on April 11.
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