It’s easy to forget how dire the job market was – and just about everything was – during the last year of the Trump presidency.
Americans were forced to consider theft and murder to make sure their families had enough toilet paper amid a once-a-century plague that will, by the time it’s over, have killed more than a million of us.
I guess we’re just supposed to pretend that never happened, like a fresh hell of a sermon interrupted by the sudden toot of a pastor’s fart – or Donald Trumps’ trademarks in China – or Michael Avenatti.
But letting the memory of the wreckage left behind by Republican presidents is why we get so many more Republican presidents.
So prepare for a haunting flashback.
Before 2020, America had never seen more than a million weekly unemployment claims, not even during the Great Recession.
Late in March 2020, nearly 3 million workers filed claims.
In a week.
That was followed by 5.9 million, then 6.1 million. Pretty much the populations of Los Angeles and Chicago combined were out of work.
In a week.
That weekly hemorrhaging didn’t drop below a million until last August. It didn’t hit pre-pandemic levels until last October.
The American Rescue Plan – along with various pandemic-related reprieves – built on previous and considerable efforts to soften the pain of the pandemic by putting money into workers’ pockets.
The result of this sort of bottom-up economics?
An explosion of job growth unlike any seen before.
You’d think that’d be big news.
Sure, if the president were Republican.
Look, it’s easy to pretend this remarkable recovery, which has seen all jobs lost regained six years faster than it took the job market to recover from the Great Recession, was inevitable or predictable.
“Pre-Rescue Act, CBO projected the unemployment rate would be 5.1 percent this past quarter, not go below 4 percent until 2026, and would never go below 3.9 percent. In fact, it fell to 3.6 percent in March,” Seth Hanlon, a former special assistant to President Obama for economic policy, noted.
You may not be aware of the good news.
You’re not alone.
What explains this catastrophic cognitive dissonance?
Some of it is complicated.
Much of the good news has been buried in constant positive revisions by the government of job numbers. That process dulled deadlines.
It’s also hard to celebrate the good news during a pandemic that’s still killing the unvaccinated, immunocompromised and the unlucky.
(And anyway, work sucks.)
But the simple reason for Americans not knowing how effective the American Rescue Plan has been is psychological abuse.
The Washington press corps, warped by the influence of rightwing media, tends to ignore good job news under Democratic presidencies.
Consider this: Do you know more jobs were created in 2014, the year Obamacare went into effect, than any year so far in the century before 2021? That’s after five years of Republicans predicting the opposite?
What’s going on now is more nefarious, though, It comes from people who know better. They understand well this newfound labor power.
It’s Corporate America.
That’s why workers having the best job security in their lives is continually framed not as victory for Joe Sixpack, but as a crisis.
"US businesses are not laying off workers because they know the enormous challenges they're facing in filling open positions," Ryan Sweet, of Moody's Analytics, told Reuters. "If initial claims remain below 200,000 for a period of time, it will raise a red flag with the Fed."
Not enough layoffs should raise a red flag?
Is the job market too good?
(How dare you ask for a raise! I should be on my superyacht!)
These Scrooge-before-Ghosts-Scared-Him headlines are more common than headlines about the balance of power shifting toward the interests of labor. An excellent example of this comes courtesy of Axios: “Worker shortage thwarts Biden’s ‘millions’ of jobs pledge.”
More nefarious, however, is the fixation by the press corps on the allegation that “inflation” is driven by workers' newfound advantages.
For Republicans, the advantages of discounting the best job market for workers in half a century are obvious. They need to justify resuming power. For Corporate America, record profits are not enough.
They are acutely aware of the success of unionizing efforts at an Amazon warehouse and at multiple Starbucks’ locations. They see how hard it is to hire when workers don’t live in terror of unemployment.
They see Democratic majorities in the Congress having the power, though not yet the votes, to clawback some of the massive giveaways corporations racked up during the Trump administration.
And they want their layoffs back.
Unfortunately, the press corps is happy to help.
So is the Fed – with rate increases likely to deflate the jobs market than help mitigate inflation, which has as much to do with the pandemic and the flimsiness of anti-worker supply chains as anything.
Workers haven’t had much to celebrate for a long time. It’s hard to celebrate an economy fundamentally rigged to fluff the super rich.
But we better understand the power we have.
Corporations want it back, fast.