As painful as the Covid-19 economic fallout has been, the unemployment rate today is lower — and the average rate this year has been lower — than the average during the four years of former President Barack Obama’s first term, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is no defense of the current catastrophe — only an observation that the catastrophe is not a once-in-a-century occurrence but one to which Americans have become quite accustomed.
For struggling groups, the picture is even worse. For instance, take men with only a high school degree. In the 1990s, about 73% of them were working at any point in time. That figure fell below 70% after the 2001 recession and never bounced back. Then it fell below 65% following the Great Recession and stayed there through the long, slow recovery. When Covid struck, it went below 55%, and still remains below 60%. This decline represents 4 million fewer men working than had 1990s economic conditions persisted.