The thing is, Covid-19’s resurgence was utterly predictable — and predicted. When Donald Trump declared that we would “transition to greatness” — which is to say, rush to reopen the economy despite a still-rampant pandemic — epidemiologists warned that this could set off a new wave of infections. They were right.
And economists warned that while relaxing social distancing would lead to a brief period of job growth, these gains would be short-lived, that premature reopening would be self-defeating even in economic terms. They were also right.
Don’t be fooled by the big jobs number in Thursday’s employment report — a number that still left us down almost 15 million jobs from February. The report was a snapshot of the economy during the “reference period,” basically the second week of June. So it’s telling us what was happening before the Covid-19 surge became apparent.
We don’t have official data for what has happened since then, but a variety of real-time indicators suggest that the recovery has stalled or even gone backward. Indeed, things started falling apart even before states began reversing some of their previous moves to reopen. Fear of infection will do that: Many people will avoid going out whatever their governors may say.
As a result, unemployment, still in double digits, probably won’t get much better for a long time.
Now, there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between jobs and the spread of the pandemic. If we had all worn masks and avoided stupid policies like reopening bars and resuming large indoor gatherings, we probably could have had substantial job gains without surging infections. But we didn’t, largely because Trump and Republican governors refused to take sensible actions (and in many cases prevented mayors and other local officials from acting sensibly on their own).
Nor can we simply hit the reset button. Activities we could have safely resumed two months ago, when infection rates were low, aren’t safe to continue given today’s much higher Covid-19 prevalence. That is, we’re in worse shape, even economically, than we would have been if Trump and his allies had taken the pandemic seriously early on.
The really frightening aspect about where we are is that Trump and his people don’t seem to have learned anything from their coronavirus debacle. On Wednesday — Wednesday! — Trump insisted, as he has at every stage of the pandemic, that the coronavirus will “sort of just disappear.”