WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic triggered the steepest monthly loss of U.S. jobs since the Great Depression, data showed on Friday, and a second White House aide tested positive, raising questions over measures to protect President Donald Trump.
A day after the White House confirmed the Republican president’s personal valet had tested positive for the virus, Trump told reporters it had also infected Katie Miller, the press secretary to Vice President Mike Pence. She is married to senior Trump aide and immigration policy hard-liner Stephen Miller and travels frequently with Pence.
“We’ve taken every single precaution to protect the president,” White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told reporters.
Labor Department data showed U.S. unemployment rose 14.7% last month – up from 3.5% in February – demonstrating the speed at which the U.S. economy collapsed after stay-at-home policies were imposed in much of the country to try to curb the spread of the outbreak.
Even worse economic news may come yet. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said the unemployment rate was likely to move up to around 20% this month.
The economic devastation has put a sense of urgency into efforts by U.S. states to get their economies moving again, even though infection rates and deaths are still climbing in some parts of the country.
Underscoring the wide-ranging threat from the pathogen, a 5-year-old boy has died in New York from a rare inflammatory syndrome believed to be linked to the coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
The virus has killed nearly 76,000 Americans with more than 1.26 million confirmed cases, according to a Reuters tally.
One of the fatalities was a 5-year old boy who died in New York from a rare inflammatory syndrome believed to be linked to the novel coronavirus, highlighting a potential new risk for children in the pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday.
The condition, first reported in Britain, Italy and Spain, can attack multiple organs, impair heart function and weaken heart arteries.
Just as the pathogen itself has hit black and Hispanic Americans especially hard – they are overrepresented in the U.S. death toll relative to their population size – minorities also have suffered greater job losses during the crisis.
The April unemployment rate was 14.2% for white Americans, but the rate reached 16.7% among African Americans and 18.9% among Hispanic Americans, the data showed. There also was a gender disparity, with the jobless rate at 13% for men and 15.5% for women.
Overall, an astounding 20.5 million U.S. jobs were lost in April – the steepest loss since the Great Depression some 90 years ago – and the jobless rate broke the post-World War Two record of 10.8% in November 1982, the government said.
Adding to the pain, millions of Americans have been unable to register for unemployment benefits due to bureaucratic hurdles, with the problem worse in some states than others.
Trump, seeking re-election in November, initially played down the threat posed by the coronavirus and has given inconsistent messages about how long the economic shutdown would last and the conditions under which states should reopen businesses.
“Those jobs will all be back, and they’ll be back very soon,” Trump told Fox News on Friday.
‘JUST SO TENSE’
Rita Trivedi, 63, of Hudson, Florida, was furloughed as an analyst at Nielsen Media Research on April 23 and has struggled to secure benefits from the state’s troubled unemployment system. Trivedi worries that she does not have enough money to cover her husband’s medical bills and other expenses.
“I’m more than anxious, I’m more than worried – it’s ‘can’t sleep’ kind of anxious,” Trivedi said in an interview. “I’m just so tense thinking about these things and how to manage.”
California, where the first statewide stay-at-home orders were issued on March 19, moved forward with a partial reopening plan on Friday, allowing manufacturing facilities that meet certain infection-control criteria to resume operations and permitting some retail workplaces, such as bookstores, jewelry stores, clothing stores, sporting goods stores and florists, to offer curbside pick-up and delivery services.
In Los Angeles, few of those stores were open in the downtown area. In-store shopping is not permitted.
Tesla Inc was aiming to restart production in its U.S. car plant in Fremont, California, on Friday afternoon, according to an email sent by Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk to staff.
But a health official in Alameda County, where the assembly plant is located, said local lockdown measures remain in effect there and supersede Governor Gavin Newsom’s relaxation of statewide restrictions. “We’ve been working with them, but we have not given the green light,” Alameda County health officer Erica Pan said of Tesla.
At least 40 of the 50 U.S. states – including states where cases and deaths are on the upswing – are taking steps to lift restrictions that had affected all but essential businesses. For example, Arizona, Mississippi and South Dakota on Friday all reported record numbers of cases.
Public health experts said reopening prematurely risks fueling fresh outbreaks. They also have raised concerns that a state-by-state hodgepodge of differing policies confuses the public and undermines social distancing efforts.
Reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Jeff Mason, Mari Caspani, Andy Sullivan, Lisa Shumaker, Rajesh Kumar Singh, Lisa Lambert, Tim Ahmann and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham, Editing by Howard Goller