On anniversary of Great Depression, 25 million collecting unemployment
A child rolls a grocery cart as she and residents of the Corona neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York wait in line to receive donated food, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. The scene of hungry and jobless families looks reminiscent of the 1930s. | Kathy Willens / AP

WASHINGTON—Some 25 million people drew or sought federal or state jobless aid checks through Oct. 24, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Oct. 29. That includes 22.65 million people already getting aid and 2.2 million more who applied for it since then, split almost evenly between the succeeding two weeks.

The numbers are reminiscent of those piled up in the U.S. economy during the Great Depression, which started 91 years ago today, on Oct. 29, 1929, with the stock market crash. That economic crisis, capitalism’s worst ever, dragged on for years.

People stand on a breadline, early victims of the Great Depression, as they wait for food on New York’s Lower East Side, 1930. As the United States marks the 91st anniversary of the start of the Great Depression on Oct. 29, 2020, at least 25 million people are on jobless aid. | AP

The depression workers are suffering under now is coming close to that earlier one in severity. Some 64 million people have drawn jobless aid at one time or another since the coronavirus pandemic forced mass closures of businesses and other large gathering sites, to prevent its community spread.

Even now, though millions of people returned to work once limited reopening began, 15.5% of workers are drawing state or federal jobless checks, BLS’s chart shows. And that doesn’t count some of the big layoffs since the start of the month.

U-S-history.com reports the historical year-long average joblessness during the Great Depression was 24.75% in 1933, before New Deal programs really started to take hold. That year’s labor force was 51.84 million. Officially, 12.83 million were out of work.

Trump Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia ignored the jobless aid numbers, and the irony of the anniversary of Black Tuesday. Instead, he trumpeted Trump Commerce Department data showing gross domestic product grew by 7.4% from July through September, after a 9% drop in the three months before that.

Greg Kearney / People’s World

The 7.4% figure, Scalia claimed, shows the economy is on the way to recovery. But there are two big problems with his analysis.

One is that a 7.4% recovery comes from a smaller economic base than the prior 9% drop. The other is that GDP is the sum of all goods and services the economy produces, without considering negative costs, or what the dollars are spent on.

That means a dollar of GDP from producing bombs equals a dollar of GDP from teaching kids and that a dollar of GDP from a coal-fired power plant doesn’t count the negative cost of air pollution from that plant.

Trump and his Labor Secretary aren’t the only politicians ignoring the continuing joblessness. So is the GOP U.S. Senate majority. “As millions of people continue to file for unemployment insurance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate on Tuesday with no COVID relief,” Economic Policy Institute Policy Director Heidi Shierholz tweeted. “The cruelty is mind-blowing.”


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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.