Trump may find recessions and re-elections don't mix

Donald Trump
Trump faces tough re-election prospects as millions of Americans are thrown out of work

Donald Trump’s twitter feed was curiously silent on Friday as official statistics confirmed the collapse of America's jobs market.

The 45th US President is usually not backwards in coming forward, but - apart from a random "drain the swamp!" - there were no words of comfort for the more than 20m people thrown out of work by the virus.

It was a different story at the World Economic Forum in Davos back in January when he boasted that “years of economic stagnation have given way to a roaring geyser of opportunity”.

With the virus just days from breaking in the public consciousness, Trump said he was “lifting up Americans of every race, color, religion, and creed”.

Now they are being chopped down again, as these dire jobs figures show. The unemployment rate was 14.2pc for whites - bad enough - but even worse for blacks and Hispanics, at 16.7pc and 18.9pc respectively. That last number will be of particular concern for Trump’s re-election ambitions as last time around he won 28pc of the Latino vote.

Shutdowns inevitably create mass layoffs, particularly in a hyper-flexible labour market like the US. The Federal Reserve - whose chairman Jay Powell is the subject of regular Trump abuse on Twitter -  is also pulling out all the stops for the economy.

So too the administration, which has boosted unemployment benefits by $600 a week across the board, and offered cash grants of $1,200 to millions of less wealthy households in response to the pandemic. 

However, Trump may struggle to get the credit for that at the ballot box for his various Covid-19 mis-steps - be it pulling funding for the World Health Organization, sidelining the Centres for Disease Control or even advising people to drink bleach. Try explaining to the relatives of the 76,000 Americans the outbreak has claimed that it is a “Democratic hoax”.

A number Trump doubtless pays more attention to is his poll ratings, which put him six points behind Democratic rival Joe Biden. Trump has to pray that US employers can hire again as quickly as they fired as the lockdown lifts - but in a world of lingering social distancing, that may not be the case. 

Moreover, re-elections and recessions don’t mix. In the past 100 years, Calvin Coolidge is the only sitting president to have won a second term in the wake of a recent recession. The last to try, George Bush Snr, failed in 1992. Barring a spectacular turnaround, Trump will go the same way.