Dec 4, 2020 - Politics & Policy

America's hidden depression

Janet Yellen and Biden
Biden introduces his pick for Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, on Dec. 1. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Biden faces a fragile recovery that could easily fall apart, as the economy remains in worse shape than most people think.

Why it matters: There is a recovery happening. But it's helping some people immensely and others not at all. And it's that second part that poses a massive risk to the Biden-Harris administration's chance of success.

Two big reasons:

1. Big business, investors, and the wealthy are thriving. But restaurant and bar employees, hotel and airline staff, and other service workers are in a pretty hopeless situation right now:

  • A "depression" is an apt description of what they're facing — especially folks in rural and middle America who are parents.

700,000 Americans have been filing unemployment insurance claims every week for 37 weeks — nine months. Plus, 20 million people are still on the pre-pandemic unemployment rolls.

  • That's unheard of, and incredibly bad.

2. As Axios has been telling you, government statistics — because of the way they've always been reported — understate lots of red flags.

  • The official unemployment rate has been dropping, but that's because:
  1. It never really counted gig economy workers well in the first place.
  2. Its data collection abilities have been severely crimped by the pandemic.
  3. Lots of people are falling out of the labor force — not working and not looking.

What's next: 13.4 million people are on pandemic unemployment programs that expire at the end of the year — 27 days from now.

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