U.S. labor secretary in FL to tout Trump economy, though thousands remain jobless and awaiting benefits

U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia addressed reporters in Jacksonville on July 9, 2020. Credit: Florida Channel, Screenshot

U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia touted the U.S. economy in Florida on Thursday, although thousands of people remain unemployed and awaiting benefits and some businesses have closed and may never reopen.

The economy was “extraordinary” before COVID hit, Scalia said during a joint news conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Jacksonville Port Authority. And later, President Trump and Congress steered billions of recovery dollars to taxpayers and businesses, he continued.

“This laid a groundwork for a strong recovery and we are seeing some very, very strong early results,” said Scalia, son of the late Antonin Scalia, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court.

But as Bloomberg News editor-in-chief emeritus Matthew Winkler wrote this week:

“The 14.7 percent April unemployment rate was the highest since 1948, when Harry Truman was president, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Trump cheered when the Labor Department reported a decline to 11.1 percent for June. He didn’t mention that U.S. joblessness had continued to dwarf the 3.9 percent rate in the U.K.”

Meanwhile, more than 3 million Americans have been infected with the new coronavirus, according to The New York Times. And Florida’s infections continue to spike. As of Thursday, the state health department reported 232,718 COVID-19 infections and 4,009 resident deaths.

Scalia didn’t fully address the consequences of the president’s actions during the pandemic.

He did highlight the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, or USMCA, which took effect last week. President Trump met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the White House Thursday to highlight the pact.

It replaced NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Scalia said had “devastating impacts” on U.S. workers particularly in manufacturing and agriculture. USMCA is a “much better deal that we estimate will bring to the U.S. 500,000 jobs or more in the years ahead,” he said.

However, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Democrat Nikki Fried, has estimated that USMCA will cost Florida 8,000 farm jobs and $400 million in revenue, according to comments on a YouTube television program.

One key to recovery, Scalia argued, is reopening public schools, something the president has been leaning on the states to do this fall.

“To me, schools are an essential service,” Scalia said.

Lower-income Americans, he said, have been hit particularly hard because they hold jobs not amenable to working from home. Women, too, bear more of the burden of child care.

“If we don’t get our schools open, its going to be that much harder for adult women who are facing a higher unemployment rate to get back to work.”

That drew praise from DeSantis.

“I’m confident, if you can do Home Depot, if you can do Wal-Mart, if you can do these things, we absolutely can do the schools. I want our kids to be able to minimize this education gap that I think has developed,” the governor said.

“I say as a parent, I have a newborn, I have a 2-year-old, I have a 3-year-old, they’re not old enough to go to school so, obviously, they won’t be, you know, in kindergarten or anything coming up. But I would not hesitate putting them in, in terms of the risk. Because the risk, fortunately, for kids is extremely, extremely low.”