Published September 4, 2020
Friday’s unemployment figures are yet more proof that the U.S. economy is roaring back. They also show, however, that there are limits to the nation’s recovery so long as fear of the novel coronavirus remains.
The headline unemployment rate’s rapid decline to only 8.4 percent is the big news. It was 14.7 percent just four months ago, and millions more people weren’t counted as unemployed then because they had dropped out of the labor force. Nearly 14 million Americans have gone back to work since the height of the pandemic shutdowns. That’s a stunning rebound that President Trump will surely tout.
The recovery would likely be stronger were it not for some states continuing covid-19 restrictions. Most of California, which represents nearly 12 percent of the nation’s population, remains under severe restrictions that limit most retail stores and restaurants. New Jersey reopened its restaurants and movie theaters only on Friday, and then only at 25 percent capacity. New York City still bans indoor dining, and both Pennsylvania and Washington state restrict indoor dining to 50 percent or less capacity in their most populous counties. All of these restrictions keep employment in the heavily hit restaurant industry below levels seen in other states.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.