Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Joe Biden's economic team faces a daunting task helping the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs or otherwise been financially ravaged by the coronavirus. But most of them have first-hand crisis experience, dating back to when Barack Obama inherited a crumbling economy when he took office in 2009.

Why it matters: Most of President-elect Biden's economic nominees served in the Obama administration, and wish that they could have gone bigger to help America recover from the 2008 financial crisis. But it's not going to be easy for them to push through massive fiscal spending in 2021.

The big picture: We're facing "an American tragedy," said Biden's nominee for Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, on Tuesday. "It is essential we move with urgency. Inaction will produce a self-reinforcing downturn, causing yet more devastation.”

Data: BLS via FRED; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

By the numbers:

  • Employment is much worse than during the Great Recession. The total number of jobs in America is still more than 10 million below its peak, even after a significant rebound.
  • The unemployment rate is currently 6.9% — better than the 7.8% that Biden inherited when he took office as vice president in January 2009, and much better than the 9.9% level that it hit later that year. That's partly because millions of jobless Americans, including many parents forced to stay home to help school their kids, aren't counted as unemployed because they're not actively looking for work.
  • GDP is about 3.5% below its peak, roughly the same as in the first quarter of 2009.

Flashback: "Anyone who was involved from Treasury, from Fed, in the financial world, will tell you that the U.S. economy needed more of a boost for longer than it got” back then, former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who also served as the head of the Office of Management and Budget under Obama, tells Axios.

  • “If you look through [Biden’s] team ... I don't know anyone who doesn't agree with that."

What they're saying: "When the Obama team came into office, much of the damage to the economy was still ahead of us," says Harvard economics professor Karen Dynan. "The worst is behind us now. The economy has the potential to recover much more quickly, but that's going to depend on getting fiscal policy right."

  • Biden's economic team will want to maximize new government spending — to state and local governments, to the jobless, to struggling restaurants and other small businesses, and to a long list of other recipients.

Between the lines: This crisis is very different from the one 12 years ago. For one thing, because it's not a financial crisis, it can't be solved by lending money to the financial system.

  • Today, the list of entities that need government aid is much longer than it was in 2009, when the $831 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed.

Biden's nominees are deeply experienced in the art of getting fiscal legislation pushed through Congress. But no one yet knows how cooperative Mitch McConnell is going to be — or even whether he's going to command an outright majority in the Senate.

  • McConnell unveiled a $333 billion stimulus proposal on Tuesday — much smaller than the $2.2 trillion that Biden, along with Democratic Congressional leaders, has said the economy needs.

What to watch: The nominees for Biden's economic team are more outspoken about race, income distribution and other social issues — and a "few clicks to the left" of Obama's economic team, according to AEI's Michael Strain.

  • Take Heather Boushey, whose career has largely focused on economic inequality.
  • Yellen, when she was Fed chair, voiced concern about the widening income gap. That concern has grown louder. She's also been outspoken about climate change.

Go deeper

Updated Jan 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden to attempt "emergency economic relief" by executive order

President Biden. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Biden will continue his executive action blitz on Friday, issuing two more orders in an attempt to provide immediate relief to struggling families without waiting for Congress.

Why it matters: In his second full day in office, Biden is again resorting to executive actions as he tries to increase payments for nutritional assistance and protect workers' rights during the pandemic.

21 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's latest executive order: Buy American

President Joe R. Biden speaks about the economy before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room at the White House on Friday, Jan 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden will continue his flurry of executive orders on Monday, signing a new directive to require the federal government to “buy American” for products and services.

Why it matters: The executive action is yet another attempt by Biden to accomplish goals administratively without waiting for the backing of Congress. The new order echoes Biden's $400 billion campaign pledge to increase government purchases of American goods.

Tech digs in for long domestic terror fight

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With domestic extremist networks scrambling to regroup online, experts fear the next attack could come from a radicalized individual — much harder than coordinated mass events for law enforcement and platforms to detect or deter.

The big picture: Companies like Facebook and Twitter stepped up enforcement and their conversations with law enforcement ahead of Inauguration Day. But they'll be tested as the threat rises that impatient lone-wolf attackers will lash out.