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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.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Jan 8, 2021 - Economy & Business

Labor market is moving in the wrong direction

Data: U.S. Department of Labor via FRED; Chart: Axios Visuals

More than 1 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits for the first time last week, even as new applications for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program fell to their lowest level since March.

State of play: The $900 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress at the end of December extended the PUA program through at least March but also added a new verification process that forces applicants to reapply in order to reduce fraud.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
3 mins ago - Podcasts

Robert Downey Jr. launches VC funds to help save the planet

Robert Downey Jr. on Wednesday announced the launch of two venture capital funds focused on startups in the sustainability sector, the latest evolution of a project he launched two years ago called Footprint Collective.

Between the lines: This is a bit of life imitating art, as Downey Jr. spent 11 films portraying a character who sought to save the planet (or, in some cases, the universe).

DHS warns of "heightened threat" because of domestic extremism

Supporters of former President Trump protest inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday issued an advisory warning of a "heightened threat environment" in the U.S. because of "ideologically-motivated violent extremists."

Why it matters: DHS believes the threat of violence will persist for "weeks" following President Biden's inauguration. The extremists include those who opposed the presidential transition, people spurred by "grievances fueled by false narratives" and "anger over COVID-19 restrictions ... and police use of force[.]"