Trump invokes George Floyd on jobs data, even as black unemployment soars

Trump delivers remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 5, 2020.
Trump delivers remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 5, 2020.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – George Floyd would be pleased with the strong US jobs data released on Friday (June 5), President Donald Trump said, invoking the memory of the black man who died in police custody and looking past African American unemployment at the highest in more than a decade.

“Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying there’s a great thing happening for our country,” Trump said in remarks at the White House on Friday.

“It’s a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody.”

Trump also called it a “great, great day in terms of equality.”

It’s not clear what he was talking about. While overall unemployment improved in May, the rate for African Americans ticked up to 16.8 per cent.

His comments came as the president spoke extemporaneously, heralding a jobs rebound amid the coronavirus pandemic, with payrolls rising 2.5 million in May after falling 20.5 million in April in the largest drop on record.

Trump has grappled with how to respond to Floyd’s death – he’s condemned it and the officers involved, but also tried to snuff out protests demanding justice, police accountability and action to address racial inequality. Trump has no plans to attend Floyd’s funeral Tuesday in Houston.

Trump has threatened to deploy active-duty forces to combat protesters in US cities, drawing rebukes from political leaders in both parties.

He later faced a direct challenge to his leadership from his current and former defense secretaries, who issued a pair of rare public dissents questioning the president’s threat to use military force.

Religious leaders and politicians in both parties condemned Trump for allowing protesters to be violently dispersed from Lafayette Square in front of the White House on Monday before he walked to a historic church to hold a Bible in front of cameras.

Trump’s approval rating has slipped 2.5 points in the week and a half since Floyd died in the custody of a Minneapolis police officer who knelt into his neck for nine minutes.

The president’s average approval rating in the RealClearPolitics average fell to 42.8 per cent on Thursday, its lowest point since November, when damning revelations of his involvement in the Ukraine scandal emerged. His impeachment by the House and eventual acquittal in the Senate gave his approval a temporary bump.

Before the pandemic, the job losses it triggered and the death of Floyd, Trump had been ramping up appeals to black voters. He frequently claimed he had driven black unemployment rates to the lowest levels in US history.

The president has long struggled with addressing issues of race. In 2017, he said there were “very fine people” on both sides of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that erupted in violence and left one person dead.

Last summer, he called Baltimore – a black-majority city – a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess”.