President Trump on Friday strode to a lectern in the White House Rose Garden to tout an unexpectedly good jobs report that showed the U.S. unemployment rate falling in May to 13.3 percent, as 2.7 million people who had been furloughed due to the coronavirus crisis returned to work.
During a 45-minute, stream-of-consciousness, often rambling speech, Trump all but declared victory in his administration’s response to both the pandemic and protests over the death of George Floyd, calling the jobs report a “tremendous tribute to equality.”
The president said he hoped Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis last week, would be looking down from heaven and approve of the job he is doing on the economy.
“Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying, ‘This is a great thing that’s happening for our country,’” Trump said. “This is a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody.”
But according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday morning, the unemployment rate for black Americans actually increased slightly, from 16.7 percent to 16.8 percent. Unemployment for Asian-Americans jumped from 14.5 percent to 15 percent. Overall, the number of permanent job losers — those who have not been on temporary layoffs — continued to rise, increasing by 295,000 in May to 2.3 million.
Pressed by a reporter about how the jobs report could be considered a “victory” for black Americans or Asian-Americans, or what his plan is to address systemic racism among U.S. police, the president again pointed to the reduction in unemployment.
“What’s happening in our country, and what’s been happening, is the greatest thing for race relations, for the African-American community, for the Asian-American, for the Hispanic-American community, for women, for everything,” Trump said. “Because our country is so strong, and that’s what my plan is.”
He talked at length about how surprising the job numbers were to economists and to business-show anchors. Although Friday’s figures were unexpected, there were no suggestions they were inaccurate.
Earlier in his remarks, Trump made a passing reference to the nationwide protests against police violence triggered by Floyd’s death, claiming his call to use the National Guard to quell the unrest in places like Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis had worked.
“We want to get all of this finished,” the president said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, called Trump’s invocation of Floyd’s name in his speech on the economy “despicable.”
Trump’s comments came a day after the first public memorial for Floyd was held in Minneapolis, where the Rev. Al Sharpton mocked the president’s widely-criticized church photo op.
“We cannot use Bibles as a prop,” Sharpton added. “And for those that have an agenda that are not about justice, this family will not let you use George as a prop.”