Scott Horsley | KERA News

Scott Horsley

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

Horsley spent a decade on the White House beat, covering both the Trump and Obama administrations. Before that, he was a San Diego-based business reporter for NPR, covering fast food, gasoline prices, and the California electricity crunch of 2000. He also reported from the Pentagon during the early phases of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Before joining NPR in 2001, Horsley worked for NPR Member stations in San Diego and Tampa, as well as commercial radio stations in Boston and Concord, New Hampshire. Horsley began his professional career as a production assistant for NPR's Morning Edition.

Horsley earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and an MBA from San Diego State University. He lives in Washington, D.C.

The United States is still losing jobs at an alarming pace two months after the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Another 2.4 million people filed claims for unemployment last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That's down 249,000 — or 9% — from the previous week, but still painfully high by historical standards.

In the past nine weeks, jobless claims have totaled 38.6 million. That's roughly one out of every four people who were working in February, before the pandemic hit.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Members of the Senate Banking Committee squabbled Tuesday over how quickly the U.S. economy can rebound from the coronavirus shutdown and whether the federal government is doing enough to support struggling families and businesses in the meantime.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warns it could be another year and a half before the U.S. recovers from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. But he says this will not be another Great Depression.

"It's going to be a very sharp downturn," Powell said in an interview with 60 Minutes that aired Sunday. "It should be a much shorter downturn than you would associate with the 1930s."

With the U.S. economy in free-fall, a lot of forecasters have been digging deep into the history books, looking for a guideposts of what to expect. Often, they've turned to the chapter on the 1930s.

"Clearly people have made comparisons to the Great Depression," said former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

"It's not a very good comparison," he cautioned.

NPR's chief economics correspondent takes listener questions about the state of the U.S. economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

NPR's chief economics correspondent takes listener questions about the state of the U.S. economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Additional government spending may be necessary to avoid long-lasting fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday.

Powell said the economy should recover once the virus is under control. But he cautioned that without more help, many small businesses may not survive that long. And he warned that a wave of business and household bankruptcies could do lasting damage to the nation's economic output.

Updated at 10:32 a.m. ET

Food prices have jumped the most since 1974, when double-digit inflation became a national concern. But inflation isn't a worry this time as prices for just about everything else are diving.

New inflation numbers out Tuesday from the Labor Department offer a window on how consumers are coping in the COVID-19 era. And the bottom line is that we're snacking more — and paying more for a lot of food — as we shop more at our local grocery stores.

David Edwards thought he'd be spending this baseball season prowling the ballpark in Davenport, Iowa, trading high-fives and cheering the home team.

After all, it would be his second season playing mascot for the Quad Cities River Bandits.

"I am the big raccoon," Edwards says. "It's the most fun I've ever had."

Updated at 11:43 a.m. ET

The Labor Department delivered a historically bad employment report Friday, showing 20.5 million jobs lost last month as the nation locked down against the coronavirus. The jobless rate soared to 14.7% — the highest level since the Great Depression.

The highest monthly job loss before this was 2 million in 1945, as the nation began to demobilize after World War II. The worst monthly job loss during the Great Recession was 800,000 in March 2009.

The Labor Department is expected to deliver a historically bad employment report Friday, showing millions of jobs lost last month as the jobless rate soared to around 16% — the highest level since the Great Depression.

Carolyn Mendel oversees a team of about 1,000 people at a frozen food factory in Wellston, Ohio. And as demand for frozen pizzas has soared, the factory has been running nonstop.

"We like to consider ourselves the home of Totino's Pizza and Pizza Rolls," she says. "We have seen a lot of feedback from our consumers that the Totino's line is getting them through quarantine."

Mendel has been in manufacturing for 25 years and with General Mills for the last 15. Rarely has she felt her work is more important than during the past several weeks.

When is it safe for people to go back to work?

That's the question both employers and workers are asking, as businesses around the country start to open doors shuttered by the coronavirus.

Workers want assurances they aren't putting themselves at risk. And employers want to know they won't be sued if workers get sick.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says liability protection for employers must be included in the next round of pandemic relief legislation.

Jose de los Rios has worked at a Procter & Gamble toilet paper factory for almost three decades. And he's never been busier.

"We're making more Charmin and more Bounty [paper towels] than we've ever made before," de los Rios says. "We just hope that our consumers know that we are doing everything we can to keep it in the stores."

De los Rios gets a lot of ribbing about his job in Mehoopany, Pa., these days, as he walks around his neighborhood or goes jogging on a nearby trail.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

The U.S. Treasury Department plans to borrow nearly $3 trillion between April and June to bankroll the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.

It's an unprecedented level of deficit financing to match the historic economic hit caused by the virus. In a single quarter, the government will borrow more than twice as much as it did all of last year.

As more businesses start to reopen and people go back to work, some companies are looking for advice on how to keep employees safe from the coronavirus.

So far, the federal government hasn't been much help.

"It's the Wild West out there," said Geoff Freeman, president of the Consumer Brands Association, which represents grocery manufacturers. "The federal government, particularly CDC and OSHA, is failing to provide the clear and specific guidance necessary to encourage relatively consistent adoption across the country."

Updated at 8:38 a.m. ET

The telephone lines are still jammed at the nation's unemployment offices.

Another 3.8 million people filed claims for jobless benefits last week, according to the Labor Department. While that's down from the previous week's 4.4 million, a staggering 30.3 million have applied for unemployment in the six weeks since the coronavirus began taking a wrecking ball to the U.S. job market.

That's roughly one out of five people who had a job in February.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Updated at 5:12 p.m. ET

The coronavirus pandemic is likely to trigger the sharpest recession in the United States since the Great Depression. An early signal of that came Wednesday, when the Commerce Department said the economy shrank at a 4.8% annual rate in the first three months of the year — the first quarterly contraction since 2014 and the largest since the Great Recession.

Will Thompson and his wife Annie are expecting their first child this fall.

But because of restrictions at local hospitals, Thompson has not been able to accompany Annie to her prenatal doctor's visits, including one where they expect to learn their baby's gender.

Thompson chokes up talking about this: "My wife is an incredibly strong woman, and she's amazing. I just — I wish I could."

The Denver couple plan to ask their doctor to write "boy" or "girl" inside an envelope, so they can open it later, together.

Maxwell Kirsner used to build sets for a company that staged big events in New York City. Those events dried up suddenly in mid-March.

"I was laid off on Friday the 13th," he recalls.

The timing actually turned out to be fortunate, as Kirsner was able to apply for and start receiving jobless benefits before the huge wave of layoffs that soon followed, overwhelming unemployment offices.

His fiancée, Natalie Borowicz, and others who worked for the same company got pink slips a few weeks later. When we spoke, some were still waiting for their benefits to begin.

Get ready for another footrace, as struggling small businesses scramble to grab hold of a financial lifeline.

The federal government is restarting an emergency loan program for small businesses Monday, with $320 billion. The program burned through its first $349 billion in less than two weeks.

Perla Pimentel lives in Orlando, Fla., home to Disney World and other popular resorts. She was an event coordinator who suddenly found herself with no events to coordinate in March. The tourist mecca has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

"We could tell that the company was hurting because we were watching all of our clients cancel," she says. "You don't really expect it to happen to you."

"You can't really have a concert if you can't have an audience," David Roode muses.

His career as a concert trombonist in Cincinnati went abruptly on hold when stay-at-home orders took effect in March.

"I had months of gigs that were just canceled."

Roode and his wife, a concert pianist, have done some recording while on lockdown in Cincinnati. And they've tapped into savings they typically rely on during the slower summer months.

Angelita Wynn has driven a school bus for six years.

Wynn was driving the kids back home on her afternoon run in Pittsburgh one day in March when she got word her job was going away. Over the radio.

"Our dispatcher came across the radio saying that school was closed, so that's how I found out," Wynn said. "And that's the last time I've been in the bus."

Her favorite thing about her job was the sense of freedom it offered, where driving can get you from one place to another. Her least favorite thing: It didn't pay a living wage.

Updated at 4:04 p.m. ET

$600 per week.

That's what the federal government is now offering to people who've lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.

For many workers and employers, that money is a godsend — a way to keep food on the table while also cutting payroll costs.

But the extra money can create some awkward situations. Some businesses that want to keep their doors open say it's hard to do so when employees can make more money by staying home.

While the president and his advisers talk about "reopening" the economy, there are parts of it that never closed.

Many factories are still operating around the clock, churning out the products we depend on during this pandemic, including food, face masks and toilet paper.

"I get a lot of ribbing locally in my neighborhood," says Jose de los Rios, who works at a giant Procter & Gamble plant in Mehoopany, Pa., where Charmin toilet paper is produced. "At least a third or half of my neighbors stop me and jokingly ask, 'Can I get them some?' "

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