The Morning Jolt

U.S.

A Historic — and Encouraging — Jobs Report

People line up outside Kentucky Career Center before it opens to find assistance with their unemployment claims in Frankfort, Ky., June 18, 2020. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

This is the last Morning Jolt until July 6. Be safe, and enjoy Independence Day Saturday as much as you can.

On the menu today: some insanely good numbers on the jobs front, a long look at what ails this country, and how 2020 went so wrong for so many of us.

Maybe the Most Jaw-Droppingly Good Jobs Report in U.S. History

Holy smokes, this news is so off-the-charts good, at first glance people might think it is a misprint: The U.S. economy added 4.8 million jobs in the month of June, and the unemployment rate dropped from 13.3 percent to 11.1 percent. We knew that as lockdowns lifted and businesses reopened their doors, employers would bring back laid-off workers. Economists expected a little under 3 million.

Yes, we’re still far from where we were before the pandemic; a 20-million-job-loss month like we had in April is not going to be overcome quickly. And it’s possible that hiring may slow down, as more businesses temporarily shut down again in response to the recent COVID-19 resurgence, particularly in the Sun Belt states. But there’s no realistic way to look at this morning’s jobs report and express disappointment or say that it could have or should have been better.

May’s numbers were revised upward, to 2.7 million rehired. If the late, great Stuart Scott were here, he would say, this economy must be butter, because it’s on a roll.

Happy Birthday, America — We’ve Got a Lot to Accomplish before the Next One

No getting around it: The United States is in rough, rough shape as it approaches its 244th birthday.

Let’s run through what’s gone wrong, attempting to skip over the usual partisan finger-pointing that you can get almost anywhere else.

A terrible virus came along that created the kind of public-health threat the country hasn’t faced in a century. Luck, geographical distance, better planning, milder viruses, or some combination of those factors meant that the United States was either untouched or minimally touched by the first SARS, H1N1, MERS, West African Ebola, and Zika viruses. Americans have been conditioned to believe that reports of new contagious viruses in far-off lands sounded scary but would have minimal impact on their daily lives, if any impact at all.

Our country’s government, at all levels, made mistakes, because government is made up of human beings. You can point to no shortage of policy mistakes made by President Trump, or governors such as Andrew Cuomo of New York, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, or New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.

Some critics of the U.S. response to the virus plausibly contend that for all of the cases and deaths we know about, there are more that are still uncounted. But that applies to all governments around the world — particularly habitually dishonest authoritarian regimes. The Chinese government would have you believe that it ranks 22nd in the world in the number of cases, and that a country of a billion people has had merely 3,000 new cases since early March. We know the situations in Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Indonesia are bad. What we don’t know is just how bad.

Even countries with democratic governments and relatively reliable numbers paint a grim picture. As of this morning, the U.S. has endured 395 deaths for every 1 million citizens. France has endured 457 for every 1 million; Sweden — which many people wanted to believe had cracked the code on how to get through the crisis quickly — is at 532; Italy at 575; Spain at 607; the United Kingdom at 647; and Belgium at an astounding 842.

Some countries may have responded to this virus better than we did, but they are generally smaller, less populous, had experience with a previous serious virus, and/or have populations that are more trusting of their government and more inclined to obey strict rules and to assent to government monitoring of their movements and activities that Americans are unlikely ever to accept.

In response to this threat, America responded with unprecedented measures, mostly enacted at the state level. Starting in mid March, we more or less shut down the country other than supermarkets, pharmacies, and essential businesses. Our leaders knew that the economic consequences would be catastrophic but figured those consequences would be an acceptable trade-off for the number of lives that move would save. But it appears few of them thought through the far-reaching social consequences.

More Americans are dependent on food banks than ever before. Many hospitals and doctors delayed “elective” medical procedures, and millions of Americans put off going to the doctor. The number of drug overdoses is not merely increasing each month, but it is increasing at a higher rate each month. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently surprised some people by urging that school districts attempt to get kids back into the classroom as much as possible this fall:

The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families.

Lockdowns had the potential to be an effective short-term strategy to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2. But they were never sustainable — it’s somewhat remarkable that the public honored the lockdowns as long as they did — and the lockdowns were supposed to buy time for governments to work out a more sustainable policy. But a good formula for living with the virus never really emerged.

Certain governors and health-policy experts seemed to believe that public patience was inexhaustible and that unprecedented restrictions could be sufficiently enforced everywhere they were needed. They didn’t seem to understand the country they live in.

We are the country of the Texas Rangers and Wyatt Earp and Teddy Roosevelt and Eliot Ness and Frank Serpico — icons of law, order, and justice. But we are also a country literally founded by people who violently rejected the existing legal and political authority when they deemed it unjust or draconian, and those who defied the law shaped our culture and sense of self-identity as well, from the Tea Party patriots at Boston Harbor to Nat Turner to John Brown to Billy the Kid to Sitting Bull to Mae West to Cesar Chavez to Martin Luther King to Randall Terry.

That first thread of “law and order” in our culture was destined to manifest itself in the “Karens” — private citizens who appointed themselves the enforcers of these new and abnormal restrictions, convinced that they were taking up this task out of a sense of altruistic desire to protect others, but satisfying a deep-rooted itch to judge others and publicly shame them whenever possible, basking in the endorphin rush of an impromptu ceremony affirming their own moral superiority. That second thread, of rebellion, was perhaps equally destined to manifest itself in the form of rifle-carrying protesters marching into the gallery of the Michigan state Senate and yelling at the lawmakers below them.

If the economy had not been shut down in Minnesota, would George Floyd have been out of work? Would he have allegedly tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill and then been in that particular place and time where former police officer Derek Chauvin would arrest him and hold his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes?

For generations, leaders of mostly white police forces have insisted that they wanted to restore trust with the African-American community. While there are success stories here and there, by and large those efforts have failed. Too many African Americans have stories of being pulled over for no discernable reason, treated like a dangerous criminal when they had committed no crime, and seemingly routine encounters with police that keep going terribly wrong and end with a black man dead. They feel “born suspect” — and that’s on top of local public schools that offer poor education, public housing that is substandard, fewer opportunities for hiring and promotion, and the scourge of addiction ravaging their communities.

I don’t think we fully appreciate how much the still-ongoing protests are, for young people, the only game in town. Just what else is there to do in still-heavily-locked-down America? They can’t go to the movies. They can’t go to a ballgame. In most places, they can’t go to a public pool. The gyms are just starting to reopen in most places, at limited capacity. In California, many beaches are closed. Heck, even the libraries are still closed in most places. Since early spring, school has consisted of unevenly run online learning where nothing is graded and attendance is more or less optional. Summer jobs and summer programs are few and far between. How do you date when all the traditional activities are barred, and you’re supposed to stay at least six feet away from any stranger, and preferably with a mask?

In a normal summer, how much of young people’s mental energy is spent on enjoyable leisure, from the NBA to pickup games of sports to Marvel movies and other summer blockbusters? Think about how many teenagers make money in the summer working at an amusement park or the local cineplex or the snack bar at the local pool. Maybe if they’re lucky the local McDonald’s is still open. Think about how many of your favorite summer memories involve being around other groups of people. The pandemic lockdown rules took all of that away from America’s young people this summer.

Why are we shocked that young people are flocking to house parties and bars at night and protests during the day? What else have we left them to do?

ADDENDUM: Every now and then, you wonder what the people who are around the president behind closed doors see. Because in yesterday’s interview with Fox Business News . . . the president seemed very “low energy,” as he once said of Jeb Bush.

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