But that is only half the story.
It has all happened so freaking fast.
JANUARY 2, 2020, DOW CLOSE – 28,828.8
DECEMBER UNEMPLOYMENT RATE – 3.5%
KNOWN US INFECTIONS – 0
KNOWN US DEATHS – 0
At the beginning of the year, there were no US cases of coronavirus and the unemployment rate was below 4%.
Covid-19 discovered. The Chinese government confirmed the new disease on January 7.
Enters US. The first known case on US soil was confirmed January 21 — 10 days before the Trump administration announced it would deny US entry to foreign nationals who had recently traveled to China.
FEB 6, 2020, DOW CLOSE – 29,379
JANUARY UNEMPLOYMENT RATE – 3.6%
KNOWN US INFECTIONS – 12
KNOWN US DEATHS – 0
MARCH 2, 2020, DOW CLOSE – 26,703 (-2848 from all-time high)
FEBRUARY UNEMPLOYMENT RATE – 3.5%
KNOWN US INFECTIONS – 102
KNOWN US DEATHS – 6
In the week ending March 14, a relatively normal 282,000 Americans filed for first-time jobless benefits.
Shutdown starts. A week later, most US schools had shuttered, everyone who could avoid going to work was told to stay home and the new Covid-19 reality had shut down much of the United States.
Millions lose jobs. In the week ending March 21, 3.3 million Americans filed for first-time jobless benefits, a gobsmacking number that more than doubled a week later.
By the time April started, more than 10 million Americans had newly filed for unemployment.
The virus explodes. Infections went from about 100 to tens of thousands in a month, and deaths multiplied.
APRIL 1, 2020, DOW CLOSE – 20,943
MARCH UNEMPLOYMENT RATE – 4.4%
KNOWN US INFECTIONS – More than 212,692
KNOWN US DEATHS – More than 4,780
FIRST-TIME JOBLESS CLAIMS — More than 10 million in March
The stock market stabilizes, but many more millions are jobless. The infection continued to multiply and multiply. Another 20 million Americans filed for new unemployment during the month.
Death toll rises. More died from coronavirus in the US in several months than Americans died during the decade-plus war in Vietnam.
Virus plateaus. But even though the curve of infections had not dropped in most of the US, a backlash to social distancing led governors to move toward reopening parts of the country.
MAY 7, 2020, DOW CLOSE – 23,976
APRIL UNEMPLOYMENT RATE – ~16%
KNOWN US INFECTIONS – More than 1.2 million
KNOWN US DEATHS – More than 75,000
FIRST-TIME JOBLESS CLAIMS – More than 20 million in April
Analysts have predicted an unemployment rate between 10% and 22% when new unemployment data is released Friday. But that won’t yet factor in nearly 10 million new jobless claims in the back half of April, reflected above.
As states begin to reopen their economies even though the virus continues to grow into new hot spots outside of urban centers, it’s clear that known infections lag behind actual infections.
And what upended society so quickly in a few months now seems like it will take years to fix.
It’s largely put a stop to the restaurant industry and the travel industry.
How to view this horrible data: Is it time to compare this to the Great Depression?
Since then, things have gotten so much worse.
- Tens of millions of Americans have filed new unemployment claims
- Congress is arguing over a fourth stimulus package
- Numerous states are starting to reopen even though they haven’t met White House guidelines to contain the virus.
So I went back to Wessel for an update. His new worry about a presidential transition is not something I’d considered.
ZW: How has the past month changed your assessment of what’s going on?
DW: In the past month, I have realized just how long it is likely to take for the economy to recover. We know the second quarter will be awful, but I’m not sure how big the rebound will be in the third quarter: How gradually will the shutdowns end? Will people be reluctant to shop and ride the subways? Will the virus ebb and then return? This is going to be a long haul.
ZW: A month ago you were optimistic that the government was working swiftly to do what it could for the economy. Do you still feel that way?
DW: The government did act swiftly, but now Congress seems to have returned to partisan gridlock which threatens to delay, among other things, aid that state and local government desperately need to avoid laying off workers and curtailing public services.
ZW: At what point is it appropriate to start comparing this to the Great Depression?
The depth of the downturn will rival the worst quarters of the Great Depression. But the combination of wise public health measures and prudent fiscal and monetary policies can speed and strengthen the recovery. We don’t have to relive the 1930s and with good policies we won’t have to.
One new worry of mine. The transition from Hoover to Roosevelt after the 1932 [election] was a bad one. Inauguration Day didn’t come till March back then, and things got really bad between November 1932 and March 1933. If Joe Biden wins the November 2020 election, I hope the transition from one president to the next doesn’t make things worse than need be.
What was the Great Depression actually like?
Pleasure was a pound of hamburger: Robert Card said he set out for college with one suit, one necktie, one pair of shoes and $30 borrowed from a bank. He called the Depression a “painful” but “glorious” time because it forced America to face longstanding problems of poverty.
What a pleasure it was to get a pound of hamburger, which you buy for about five cents, take it up to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and have a cookout. And some excellent conversation. And maybe swim in the Kaw River.
One friend of mine had an old Model T Ford Sedan, about a 1919 model. He had this thing fitted up as a house. He lived in it all year long. He cooked and slept and studied inside that Model T Ford Sedan. How he managed I will never know. I once went there for dinner. He cooked a pretty good one on a little stove he had in this thing.
Worst since 1706
- The Napoleonic wars
- The American Revolution
- The Great Depression
- Both World Wars
Trump’s valet has Covid-19 — In other news that conjures up antiquated ideas and terms, President Trump’s valet has tested positive for coronavirus.
If you’re more visual, I really like this Time magazine cover, which puts a lot of the data we’ve been discussing in one place. This period will certainly, in hindsight, be known as something. Will The Great Reckoning be it?