Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace pressed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on his overly optimistic outlook for the economy in the second half of the year, directly asking Mnuchin on Sunday if his “rosy predictions” were based more on the upcoming presidential election rather than reality.
Discussing April’s devastating jobs report that saw the unemployment figure jumping up to nearly 15 percent, Wallace kicked off his Sunday interview with Mnuchin by noting that the numbers don’t reflect the seven million jobs lost since mid-April or the millions of Americans who are underemployed and not looking for work.
“So Mr. Secretary, what is the real unemployment rate in the United States as we talk today?” Wallace asked.
“These are very, very large numbers,” Mnuchin responded, largely ignoring the question. “These are not large numbers because the economy wasn’t doing well, these are large numbers because we’ve shut down the economy and I would just highlight the biggest component of this was in travel and retail and leisure and not a surprise—we’ve closed down major parts of the economy.”
Wallace, undeterred, pivoted back to his original question, pointing out that he feels it is important to confront the “real numbers” on unemployment.
“Aren’t we talking close to 25 percent at this point, which is ‘Great Depression’ neighborhood?”
“The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the real number, which includes people who are not looking for work, is 22.8 percent,” the veteran Fox anchor added. “That does not include…the seven million people who have lost their jobs since then. Aren’t we talking close to 25 percent at this point, which is ‘Great Depression’ neighborhood?”
While conceding that the country “could be” experiencing a Great Depression-like scenario, Mnuchin reiterated that the economy was purposely closed down due to the coronavirus pandemic and that quickly reopening businesses would result in a rapid recovery.
“We’re very focused on rebuilding this economy,” the Treasury secretary continued. “That’s why we’re focused on rebuilding this economy. We’ll have a better third quarter, we’ll have a better fourth quarter and next year is going to be a great year.”
The Fox News host once again pushed back, this time noting that while both Mnuchin and President Donald Trump have promised that the economy will come “roaring back” a number of signs indicate that it will be far slower than they’re suggesting.
“Question, are your rosy predictions based on economic reality or the November election?” Wallace asked after noting the Congressional Budget Office is projecting the unemployment rate will still be nearly 10 percent next year.
“My numbers aren’t rosy,” Mnuchin objected. “I’ve said we are going to have a very, very bad second quarter and then I think you are going to see a bounce back from a low standpoint.”
At the same time, the secretary claimed none of the economic models can predict what happens when an economy is shut down for medical reasons, adding that his personal predictions are based on the rate of reopening the economy and an assumption that a vaccine will be developed by the end of the year.
Mnuchin wasn’t the only Trump administration official who struck an optimistic tone during the Sunday news shows. During an appearance on ABC’s The Week, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said there was a “glimmer of hope” in the awful unemployment numbers while also predicting a quick bounceback for the economy.