Trump’s economic adviser says America’s ‘stock of human capital’ is ready to get back to work, sparking anger

Kevin Hassett, one of President Donald Trump’s top economic advisers, sparked outrage after saying the country’s “stock of human capital” was ready to get back to work, with critics calling the term “dehumanizing”.

Despite the backlash, the term is standard in economics and refers to labor or workers. Yet the incident underscores the disconnect between the technical vocabulary of economists and the stress many unemployed or furloughed workers are experiencing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our stock of capital has not been destroyed – our stock of human capital is ready to get back to work, and so there are many reasons to believe that we can move forward much faster than in previous crises,” said Hassett said Sunday on CNN.

In late April, two-thirds of Americans said they had concerns about returning to work, with only a quarter of respondents saying they expected to return in May, according to a Qualtrics poll.

A furloughed worker, Noah Kowaloff, 42, of Framingham, Massachusetts, Recount CBS MoneyWatch last week that he expects to still have his job when the retailer reopens, although no date has been set for the reopening. Still, he said he was concerned about the safety of returning to work that involves close contact with other people.

“I’m not closed to going back, but I’m not going to go back unless it’s safe to do so,” Kowaloff said. “My view of retail is that no job is worth putting my health at risk.”

The country’s jobless rate has soared, with the unemployment rate climbing to 14.7% in April from 4.4% in March – the highest since the Great Depression. The situation is expected to be worse in May, with JPMorgan Funds chief global strategist David Kelly noting in a client note on Tuesday that an additional 3 million jobs could be lost this month. The unemployment rate could eventually reach 20%, he predicts.

Even with states slowly reopening businesses, any economic recovery is unlikely to be quick, according to Fitch Ratings.

“Returning to economic normalcy will likely be a slow and bumpy process,” the ratings agency said in a report on Tuesday. “The breakdown in the labor market – with unemployment in the United States now expected to peak at 20% in May – and the ongoing social distancing will weigh heavily on consumer spending after the crisis, while companies will be very cautious on capital expenditure.”

Sallie R. Loera