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Trump's new GDP tweets disregard unemployment, math — and Covid-19

Our economy is far from being "great." It's not even close to where it was before the pandemic.
Image: Donald Trump Campaigns For Re-Election In Michigan
Supporters watch a video of President Donald Trump while waiting in a cold rain for his arrival at a campaign rally at Capital Region International Airport in Lansing, Mich., on Tuesday.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Now that President Donald Trump has figured out how to conquer Covid-19 — at least that's what he keeps telling us with his talk of "rounding the final turn" — he wants you to know how he made the economy great again. When you look up the word "gaslighting," Google should simply show you a picture of the president.

But there was Trump in advance of the release of Thursday's GDP report about our country's economic output for July through September, bragging on social media: "FASTEST GDP GROWTH IN HISTORY." And come Thursday morning, after the report was released announcing that the U.S. economy had seen a record 33 percent jump in growth compared to the horrific quarter before, the Trump campaign tweeted: "President Trump is making our economy great again!" Trump soon chimed in via Twitter: "GDP number just announced. Biggest and Best in the History of our Country."

Trump's new claims about the economy are no different from his statements about the coronavirus: self-serving exaggerations, if not outright lies, designed solely to help Trump politically.

Our economy is far from being "great." It's not even close to where it was before the pandemic. Millions of Americans are still out of work, weekly unemployment claims are nearly four times the pre-Covid-19 rate, Yelp reports that as of August about 160,000 business listed on the site have closed, Americans are still filing for unemployment benefits at historically high levels and Trump has no real plan to create new jobs. You can't go back to your old job when your old job no longer exists. And a recent wave of new layoffs appears to be permanent, from Disney to American and United airlines. Just days ago, Boeing announced that it was laying off 7,000 workers because of less demand caused by the pandemic.

True, the GDP — gross domestic product, which measures our economy's total output of goods and services — did jump in the third quarter, but that's a very incomplete part of the story. First off, the spike in the GDP should be compared to the GDP numbers from April to June, which had the largest drop in our nation's gross domestic output since modern record-keeping began. "The obvious caveat is that when you drop 30 percent and gain 30 percent, you're still below where you started," economic analyst Jon Burckett-St. Laurent told NBC News.

Our economic health is intertwined with the health of our fellow citizens, neither of which seems likely to get significantly better in the next few months.

But more importantly, the GDP numbers released Thursday look backward, not forward. They tell us about the economy from then. Look where we are now. With Covid-19 case numbers spiking to an average of 75,000 new cases a day — up from 36,000 a day in early September — we can expect to see more economic pain as the winter inevitably makes everything worse. Our economic health is intertwined with the health of our fellow citizens, neither of which seems likely to get significantly better in the next few months

Beyond that, Trump's boasts about the economy are predictably lacking in empathy. Per Trump's own Labor Department, a jaw-dropping 22.7 million Americans are still claiming some form of unemployment benefits. On the same day the GDP numbers were released, we learned that 751,000 Americans filed for first-time weekly state unemployment claims. (The previous record for the highest first-time weekly unemployment claims was 695,000, back in 1982.) Before March lockdowns, first-time weekly claims were averaging closer to 200,000.

On Thursday, we also learned that 360,000 Americans filed initial claims for benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program — an increase of around 15,000 from the week before. But put together, this means over 1.1 million new claims were filed for state or federal unemployment in the past seven days.

Additionally, we are seeing a surge in the number of people who have been unemployed for over 26 weeks, meaning they are now exhausting their state unemployment benefits. This could lead to more evictions and food insecurity.

If Trump really wanted to help Americans in need, he would stop bloviating and instead come up with a detailed plan to create new jobs. But that's not really Trump's style. In contrast, former Vice President Joe Biden has proposed a multifaceted "Build Back Better" plan to create millions of new jobs. Unlike Trump, Biden gets that the government needs to play a real role in helping unemployed Americans.

No one should be surprised that Trump's economic plan is just like his Covid-19 plan: all tweets, no substance. Tragically in both cases, it's the most vulnerable Americans who pay the price for Trump's failures. And in both cases, it's clear that Trump only cares about what's good for Donald J. Trump.