Donald Trump has said he hopes George Floyd is “looking down right now” and saying the decline in US unemployment announced on Friday is a “great thing that’s happening for our country”.
The nation’s unemployment rate saw a surprise decline following the coronavirus pandemic but remains higher than during the Great Recession.
His remarks follow Thursday’s memorial for Mr Floyd, who was killed by police on Memorial Day after an officer forced his knee on the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes while facing the ground in handcuffs.
The president said: “Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying, ‘This is a great thing that’s happening for our country. It’s a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody. It’s a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day.”
Asked how the rate of unemployment among black Americans can be considered a “victory” as it continues to increase, the president told White House reporter Yamiche Alcindor, “You are something.”
The nation’s unemployment rate declined from 14.7 per cent in April to 13.3 per cent in May in the wake of a public health crisis that has shuttered businesses and forced layoffs while millions of Americans have filed for unemployment insurance benefits.
While the decline signals recovery among some industries, and a potentially less severe of a blow from a looming recession, the US unemployment rate remains higher than at any point during the financial crisis of the late 2000s.
But unemployment among black Americans has increased by 0.1 per cent and by 0.5 per cent among Asian Americans.
Pressed on how he plans to address racism in the US, the president said: “What’s happened to our country, and what you now see has been happening, is the greatest thing that can happen for race relations, for the African American community” as well as Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans.
In scripted remarks, he said that equal protection under the law “must mean that every American receives equal treatment in every encounter with law enforcement regardless of race, colour, gender, or creed.”
“They have to receive fair treatment from law enforcement,” he said before saying that he hopes Mr Floyd would be “looking down”.
The president’s latest remarks about Mr Floyd follow his claims that massive protests against police brutality in the wake of the killing of Mr Floyd have “dishonoured” his memory, while he has threatened protesters with violence and his re-election campaign has used footage of memorials and other demonstrations for a video titled “Healing, Not Hatred”. That video was removed by Twitter following a copyright-infringement claim.
Mr Trump also has repeatedly claimed that his administration has “done more” for black Americans than any other, citing the unemployment rate — but black unemployment has risen to 16.8 per cent under his watch.
In a recent report, the Economic Policy Institute said that “the pandemic and related job losses have been especially devastating for black households” following historic suffering under “higher unemployment rates, lower wages, lower incomes, and much less savings to fall back on, as well as significantly higher poverty rates than their white counterparts.”
As states begin to “reopen” and ease quarantine restrictions during the Covid-19 crisis, employment rose in hospitality and construction industries, while education, health and retails began to see some increases, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics.
The increase “reflected a limited resumption of economic activity” following the nations outbreak, which has led to the deaths of more than 108,000 people and has infected nearly 2 million people in the US, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
But “even with today’s gains the US still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world,” Josh Lipsky, director of programmes and policy at the Atlantic Council’s Global Business and Economic Program, said in a statement sent to The Independent. “The reality is that millions of Americans are hurtling towards a financial cliff. There is no plan in place when the unemployment enhancement runs out next month.”
The White House has considered supporting another massive relief package despite stalls in Congress.