As the US slowly begins reopening its economy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been buoyed by a surprise fall in unemployment numbers contrary to expert’s expectations in what President Donald Trump called a “big step in our comeback”.
The Labour Department unemployment numbers for May issued on Friday showed that the US had added 2.5 million jobs after having lost 20.7 million in April.
The percentage of those unemployed slid to 13.3 in May from the historic high of 14.8 in April as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the nation.
Trump, who has been pushing for a speedier reopening of the economy, said it was zooming back like a “rocketship”.
In reality, the gains have only been modest, but magnified by the sharp difference from the 20 per cent range of unemployment projections that had been made before the report.
But it was nevertheless a positive development for the US which is being rocked by a nation-wide protest against police brutality while in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who on Friday became the Democratic Party candidate to run against Trump, pointed out that only a fraction of the jobs had come back indicating the optimism was premature.
“A President who takes no responsibility for costing millions and millions of Americans their jobs deserves no credit when a fraction of them return,” he said.
The Associated Press, which is the unofficial score-keeper in electoral matters, reported on Friday night that Biden had amassed 1,993 delegates in the intra-party elections, two more than the number needed to get the party’s nomination to challenge Trump in November.
Trump has been criticised for his enthusiasm to restart the economy with dire warnings of a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the scattered opening of businesses with Republican-controlled states taking the lead, the number of deaths reported daily has hovered around 1,000 and new cases around 20,000 for the last two weeks, although the number of coronavirus cases in the US is nearing 2 million and stood at 1.87 million with 109,143 deaths as on Friday night.
Even in New York state, the epicentre of the pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been a critic of Trump’s calls for reopening the economy, has announced plans to relax restrictions in New York City next week.
However, the recent nationwide protests against police brutality could setback the plans to re-open if the COVID-19 cases spike because many demonstrators have not been following the guidelines for social distancing and facial coverings.
While speaking at the White House about the unemployment data, Trump referred to the protests and the upsurge of national sentiments against police brutality and in support of greater equality for African Americans and other minorities.
“What’s happened to our country and what you now see is the greatest thing that could happen for race relations, for the African-American community, for the Asian-Americans, for the Hispanic American community, for women, for everything. Because our country is so strong, and that’s what my plan is.
“Equal justice under the law must mean every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement regardless of race, colour, gender or creed,” he said.
The protests were sparked by the extra-judicial killing of an African American man, Floyd George, by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
Trump said: “We all saw what happened last week. We can’t let that happen. Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country.
“This is a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody. This is a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
However, many media and the Democrats claimed it was a statement by Trump on unemployment, which was still higher for African-Americans and criticised him.
Biden said Trump’s statement was “despicable”.
Senator Kamala Harris tweeted: “Keep George Floyd’s name out of your mouth until you can say Black Lives Matter.”