June 5, 2020 / 1:07 PM / a month ago

Trump touts job gains as 'greatest comeback in American history'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Friday celebrated a stunning U.S. employment report that showed more than 2.5 million jobs were added last month during the thick of the coronavirus pandemic, and predicted the battered economy will recover all of its lost jobs by next year.

“Today is probably, if you think of it, the greatest comeback in American history,” Trump said at the White House.

“We’re going to be stronger than we were when we were riding high,” he added.

Trump, who had counted on a strong economy to bolster his chances of re-election in November, said the recovery could be hampered by higher taxes and implementation of a Green New Deal climate change plan if Democrats win the White House.

He spoke after the Labor Department released its jobs report for May, which showed the jobless rate dropped to 13.3% from 14.7% in April, a surprise after economists predicted it would rise to close to 20%. Nonfarm payrolls rose by just over 2.5 million jobs after a record plunge of slightly under 20.7 million in April.

However, many economists warn it could take years for the U.S. economy to regain all of those lost jobs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted in May that there will still be 10 million fewer people employed at the end of 2021 than there were at the beginning of this year.

Despite the overall drop in joblessness, the unemployment rate for African Americans rose to 16.8% from 16.7% in April.

The news comes amid mass protests across the country spurred by the death of George Floyd, an African-American man, in police custody in Minneapolis last week.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks about a U.S. jobs report amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic as he addresses a news conference as members of his administration listen in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Trump said Floyd might be pleased by the jobs report.

“Hopefully, George is looking down right now, and saying, ‘This is a great thing that’s happening for our country,’” he said.

That drew a rebuke from former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who noted that Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe” as a police officer kneeled on his neck.

“For the president to try to put any other words in the mouth of George Floyd, I frankly, think is despicable,” Biden said at an event in Delaware.

A raft of recent public polls showed Trump trailing Biden nationally and in some of the battleground states where the Nov. 3 election will be decided.

PUSH FOR RE-OPENING

Trump has struggled to respond to the novel coronavirus, which led to nationwide lockdowns that put the economy into a virtual standstill. More than 1.88 million Americans have been infected and more than 108,000 have been killed here by the virus since February.

Trump, who was criticized for initially downplaying the threat of the virus to the United States, said authorities should focus on protecting the elderly, who are more likely to die from the virus, and allow younger people to return to work and school. He said states like California that still have restrictions in place should follow the example of Florida and other states that have lifted them.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks about a U.S. jobs report amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic as he addresses a news conference as members of his administration listen in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The U.S. Congress has signed off on trillions of dollars in economic aid but is now deadlocked over whether additional stimulus is needed.

Democrats said Washington needed to do more to head off public-sector layoffs. “Now is not the time to be complacent or take a victory lap,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Trump said he would support further relief and Vice President Mike Pence, in an interview with CNBC, said that could include aid to states that have warned they may have to lay off teachers, police and other public employees. Republicans in Congress have resisted that idea.

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Alexandra Alper, David Brunnstrom, Lisa Lambert, Makini Brice and Andy Sullivan in Washington and James Oliphant in Dover, Delaware; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Paul Simao and Andrea Ricci

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