The Atlantic Politics Daily: There Goes the Economy

Almost 10 million Americans have already filed for unemployment benefits. It didn’t have to be this way, Derek Thompson argues. Plus: COVID-19’s unique threat to the South.

It’s Thursday, April 2. The White House will reportedly advise all Americans to wear face coverings in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In today’s newsletter: The economy is toast, but it didn’t have to be like this, our economics reporter argues. Plus: The unique threat the coronavirus poses to southern states.


(Katie Martin / The Atlantic)

There goes the economy.

Remember when the White House was toying with the idea of reopening the economy by Easter, in a little over a week?

After the jaw-dropping mortality estimates this week, the U.S. government’s official position has moved toward keeping society—and the economy—shut down for at least another month.

As my colleagues have reported before, the economic devastation is still building, but we now have a better data on what the crisis looks like. Nearly 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks, new figures out today are showing.

But it didn’t have to be this way, my colleague Derek Thompson writes, and Congress can still act, despite the fact that the U.S. is “accelerating toward an economic and human disaster unlike anything recorded in American history.”

The U.S. economic rescue package implicitly encourages layoffs and increases spending on the unemployed. Jobless benefits have been expanded, and many households will receive one-time payments of $1,200 per adult—plus $500 per child.

Strengthening our jobless benefit programs in this way was necessary to keep families from starving, given the inevitability of historic layoffs. But had the U.S. reacted swiftly and creatively to the prospect of a historic sudden-stop recession, this level of layoffs would not have been inevitable. We could have paid workers a living wage to stay with their companies. Instead, companies are firing workers en masse, and we’re scrambling to pay them a living wage anyway.

Derek runs through other recommendations.

It’s too late to stop these layoffs, but the federal government can soften the economic blow by expanding its messaging to companies about the $300 billion loan program it launched last week, and then funnel more money into it:

The message should be: You have a patriotic and moral duty to hold on to your workers during this national crisis, and the government has a patriotic and moral duty to pay you to do it.

Here are four rules we should be operating by, Derek also writes. The first? That saving the economy should be pitted against saving lives is a false choice.

Moreover, it’s foolish to begin thinking about reopening the economy when the cities that fuel the economy remain under a vicious COVID-19 siege, our political analyst Ron Brownstein writes:

In interviews with me this week, the mayors of several of those big cities told me that it will take much longer than a few weeks to restart their economy—and that even when economic activity resumes, the process will be gradual and halting.

You can read the full story here.


Politics Daily readers: Are you applying for an emergency small-business loan, or know someone who is? Our economics reporters would like to hear about the experience.

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—Christian Paz


+ The White House said it estimated anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 people to die from COVID-19 in the U.S. The debate rages on over whether the official estimates are correct. But that’s the wrong way to be understanding these models. Epidemiological models are not meant to be “right” or “wrong,” Zeynep Tufekci aruges.

+ The coronavirus is advancing on the American South: So far, about one in 10 deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 has occurred in the four-state arc of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, according to data assembled by the COVID Tracking Project. And more young people are dying, Vann R. Newkirk II writes.

+ Closing schools and restaurants, shutting down public spaces, and postponing events was the easiest part of states’ responses to the coronavirus, one former DHS official argues. There are a range of ugly decisions forthcoming (think, for instance, “which crimes to investigate”).

You can keep up with The Atlantic’s most crucial coronavirus coverage here.


Today’s newsletter was written by Christian Paz, a Politics fellow. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

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