Donald Trump said he hoped George Floyd was “looking down right now” as he trumpeted a surprise decline in the nation’s unemployment rate, saying “this is a great day for him, this is a great day for everybody”.
It was revealed on Friday that May’s jobless rate fell to 13.3 per cent from April’s 14.7 per cent – a post-World War II high – despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which had many pundits predicting a jobless rate of 20 per cent or more.
The president crowed on Twitter all morning before making an at-times rambling speech in the White House rose garden, in which he brought up Mr Floyd – who was killed by police on Memorial Day after an officer forced his knee on the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes while facing the ground in handcuffs.
He said: “We all saw what happened last week. We can’t let that happen. Hopefully George is looking down and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. (It’s) a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
It was widely interpreted as the president saying that Mr Floyd would be pleased with the newly released employment figures, after he’d earlier invoked race while discussing the employment rate pre-Covid, and hammered home the fact that the once-booming economy was a boon “for African Americans, for Hispanic Americans, and for Asian Americans, and for everybody”.
Later in the day, the Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh insisted that this was a purposeful misrepresentation which had been “maliciously crafted” by the media.
While the decline signals recovery among some industries, and a potentially less severe of a blow from a looming recession, the US unemployment rate remains higher than at any point during the financial crisis of the late 2000s.
But unemployment among black Americans has increased by 0.1 per cent and by 0.5 per cent among Asian Americans.
“What’s happened to our country, and what you now see has been happening, is the greatest thing that can happen for race relations, for the African American community” as well as Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans, he said.
In scripted remarks, he said that equal protection under the law “must mean that every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement regardless of race, colour, gender, or creed.”
“They have to receive fair treatment from law enforcement,” he said before saying that he hopes Mr Floyd would be “looking down”.
The president’s latest remarks about Mr Floyd follow his claims that massive protests against police brutality in the wake of the killing of Mr Floyd have “dishonoured” his memory, while he has threatened protesters with violence and his re-election campaign has used footage of memorials and other demonstrations for a video titled “Healing, Not Hatred”. That video was removed by Twitter following a copyright-infringement claim.
Mr Trump also has repeatedly claimed that his administration has “done more” for black Americans than any other, citing the unemployment rate — but black unemployment has risen to 16.8 per cent under his watch.
In a recent report, the Economic Policy Institute said that ”the pandemic and related job losses have been especially devastating for black households” following historic suffering under “higher unemployment rates, lower wages, lower incomes, and much less savings to fall back on, as well as significantly higher poverty rates than their white counterparts.’’
As states begin to reopen and ease quarantine restrictions during the Covid-19 crisis, employment rose in hospitality and construction industries, while education, health and retails began to see some increases, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics.
The increase “reflected a limited resumption of economic activity” following the nations outbreak, which has led to the deaths of more than 108,000 people and has infected nearly 2 million people in the US, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
But “even with today’s gains the US still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world”, Josh Lipsky, director of programmes and policy at the Atlantic Council’s Global Business and Economic Program, said in a statement sent to The Independent. “The reality is that millions of Americans are hurtling towards a financial cliff. There is no plan in place when the unemployment enhancement runs out next month.”
The White House has considered supporting another massive relief package despite stalls in Congress.