4 minute read

Whenever President Donald Trump crows about his U.S. Department of Labor’s monthly jobs report, it is full of self-congratulations and nearly empty of real context.

The June report, released Thursday, announced a drop to 11.1 percent unemployment and the addition of 4.8 million jobs, and after four months of coronavirus closures, billionaires are nearly $600 billion richer than they were before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the middle class is getting decimated, and those job figures do not reflect our current reality.

Opinion

Opinion

by George Lang, opinion writer for Free Press

The labor department collected its data in mid-June when states like Florida and Texas had yet to experience the crippling resurgence in coronavirus cases. Two and a half weeks ago, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Gregory Abbott were strutting in front of microphones, confident that their reopening plans were progressing without hiccups, and Gov. Kevin Stitt was still showing up in public spaces without wearing a mask.

Today, the U.S. is adding 50,000 new coronavirus cases a day, the likely result of Trump-allied governors like DeSantis, Abbott and Stitt opening their states too early. People working in restaurants and retail who were pressed back into workspaces that did not enforce mask-wearing or social distancing are feeling the brunt of the resurgent pandemic.

As the aforementioned states put the brakes on reopenings, many of those workers who were furloughed due to COVID-19 will be back to square one.

Last month, the man responsible for this week’s faulty jobs numbers, Labor secretary Eugene Scalia, testified before the U.S. Senate and denied that the Trump Administration had forced Americans to go back to work prematurely.

“Just to be clear, we have never suggested that workers should sacrifice health for returning to work,” Scalia said. “We oppose them being put to that choice as well.”

This was a lie. In early May, Trump told workers during a visit to an Arizona mask-making business that they were “warriors” in the American economy.

“Will some people be affected? Yes,” Trump said, notably not wearing a mask. “Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open, and we have to get it open soon.”

Trump set the tone and Republican governors followed suit. On April 24, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp opened hair salons, and bowling alleys — apparently essential businesses in his state. On July 1, there were nearly 3,000 new cases of coronavirus in Georgia. Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that the surge was directly connected to Kemp’s impetuous move to reopen early.

“We were one of the first states to open up, and so I think opening up so aggressively, we’re now paying for it on the back-end,” Bottoms said.

As large numbers of workers put their lives on the line for a paycheck, billionaires like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos are doing just fine. Since February, Bezos’ personal wealth increased by $50 billion as his company became one of the chief providers of goods for those in quarantine. According to Forbes, Bezos added $5.6 billion in the third week of June alone.

As weekly earnings go, this is unfathomable. A significant percentage of Americans are facing difficulty accruing income of $500 in a given week in this economy. Bezos earns billions each week on the backs of workers who have two choices: show up to work at the fulfillment center or be fired.

Coronavirus widened the gulf between the haves and have-nots, and we are swiftly returning to the era of robber barons, a time during the Industrial Revolution when wealthy business owners paid workers a pittance to fatten their wallets while holding sway over federal policy.

In 1859, the New York Times used the term “robber baron” to describe Cornelius Vanderbilt, the famously cutthroat railroad and shipping magnate. Bezos is a different kind of shipping magnate, but the result is the same.

COVID-19 is a danger to everyone, but it disproportionately affects the poor and people of color. Trump will leave many legacies, but his most lasting could be his irresponsible move to force people back to work for the sake of his and other robber barons’ wealth.

Sadly, there will be no war memorials for people who died from coronavirus in an effort to boost the U.S. economy.


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