While President Trump denied Thursday that the US is in a “massive recession or worse” despite the fact that a record-breaking 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week amid the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, his top economic adviser delivered an unvarnished message about the dire economic realities facing the country.
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“It's going to get worse in the weeks ahead, there's no question about it,” Larry Kudlow said in an exchange with ABC News. “We have not seen the worst of it, I don’t want to sugarcoat it.”
Kudlow declined to offer a numerical figure for just how much higher he forecasts unemployment numbers to get, but he didn’t mince words when asked if the country is looking at double-digit figures.
“The numbers are going to come in very badly, they’re going to look terrible in the weeks ahead,” Kudlow said during an interview with Fox News.
Kudlow conceded Friday that he was caught off guard by the speed with which the pandemic moved and its impact on the economy, saying “the whole pandemic and its consequences have come on exponentially faster than anybody dreamed possible.”
But while Kudlow, and the president, have asserted that the virus caught the nation by surprise, there were several warnings of the virus’ spread within China as far as December, even if the Trump administration was slow to anticipate and react to the coming threat.
Since the outbreak began, the president and his administration have attempted to reassure the nation on the state of the economy and Kudlow’s sobering comments Friday stood in striking contrast to his assertion just weeks ago that the virus was “contained” and that he didn’t anticipate a "major blow" to the economy.
“We have contained this. We have contained this. I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight,” Kudlow said in an interview with CNBC on Feb. 25. “The business side and the economic side, I don’t think it’s going to be an economic tragedy at all. … The numbers are saying the U.S. [is] holding up nicely.”
As Kudlow now says the US government is “putting as much cash in as we possibly can” to prop up the US economy through stimulus actions and stands ready to do more, it was less than a month ago that he said there was no need for “massive federal, throw money at people plans.”
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Even more striking, during a Fox News town hall in March Trump suggested that the coronavirus might be good for the economy by stopping all travel outside of the U.S --which is of course flawed because tourism works two ways.
“People are now staying in the United States, spending their money in the U.S., and I like that,” Trump said. “I’ve been after that for a long time.”
But the realities of the crisis ultimately overtook the administration's pronouncements of economic confidence.
The question going forward is whether Kudlow and the president’s insistence that the current situation is a “temporary” backslide that will last “a matter of weeks and months, not years” will ultimately hold up against the realities that some businesses will have to permanently shut their doors because of the temporary crisis brought on by coronavirus.
“I know what they're going through, and it's horrible,” President Trump said Thursday. “But you know what I want to do? I want to be able to get them back fast. When this is over, it's going to be a day we're going to celebrate, because everyone is going to go to work and I think we're going to have boom times. I think it's going to be great.”