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With Millions Out of Work in Unparalleled Moment, Trump Tells States to Hold Back Unemployment Numbers

"The Trump administration would apparently rather you not hear those numbers."

A sign warns residents to take steps to contol the coronavirus outbreak at the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn on March 19, 2020 in New York City.

A sign warns residents to take steps to contol the coronavirus outbreak at the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn on March 19, 2020 in New York City. (Photo: Victor J. Blue/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump's Labor Department is asking states not to release hard unemployment numbers, the latest attempt by the White House to downplay the economic and real-world consequences of the coronavirus outbreak. 

"The Trump administration would apparently rather you not hear those numbers," MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes told his audience Thursday night. 

The New York Times broke the story Thursday night, citing an email sent to state officials from Office of Employment Insurance administrator Gay Gilbert asking states to only "provide information using generalities to describe claims levels (very high, large increase)" until the Labor Department releases its numbers on March 26. 

"States should not provide numeric values to the public," said Gilbert.  

Investment bank Goldman Sachs is predicting that claims increased by 2.25 million in the last week, a "historic and frankly apocalyptic surge" as Wall Street Journal reporter Micahel Derby described it, with no historical parallel in U.S. history. 

The numbers are so unique, New School economist James Parrrott told Gothamist, because the damage being done by the virus has no precedent in modern history.

"In a recession, you'll see sort of episodic layoffs and business closings," said Parrott. "The numbers mount up over time. This was a completely different situation where for public health reasons… businesses were ordered to close en masse. So that is why we've never had anything like that before."

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Observers were unimpressed by the latest White House attempt to clamp down on information which could reflect poorly on Trump's handling of the crisis. 

"The Trump administration would like to extend to labor market data its highly successful approach to coronavirus data," New York Times opinion editor Binyamin Applebaum tweeted sarcastically. "I can only imagine how much markets would enjoy a little more uncertainty."

Predictions on Friday from analysts claimed that the economy could contract by as much as 14% in the second quarter—a level of economic decline not seen since World War II. 

rinceton University historian Matt Karp said the data makes clear it's past time for a massive government intervention in the economy.

"How long can American society survive this kind of mass unemployment?" Karp tweeted. "Is even an epic $3T stimulus enough?"

"Seems like we need heroic WW2-style govt planning efforts to ramp up healthcare capacity, so the country can get back to work by May, even as hundreds of thousands get sick," Karp said. 

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