The nation’s pain is obvious and palpable everywhere except in the stock market. A pandemic still rages in the United States, which leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, including a disproportionate number of African Americans. The economic fallout has been significant, with 38.6 million Americans filing unemployment claims by the end of May, and many small businesses struggling to stay afloat. Latest estimates by the Congressional Budget Office show that it could take up to ten years for the economy to be get back to normal. Widespread protests demanding racial justice have swept the nation for several days, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. And they have brought to the fore, not for the first time, longstanding systemic inequities.
Yet, the stock market has been soaring, despite the occasional hiccup. The Dow Jones index has risen by over 30% since mid-March lows. The rise of the tech-heavy NASDAQ Composite has been even more impressive. It appears there are two Americas — Main Street hurting in ways too numerous to count, and Wall Street betting on a bright and rosy future. A case in point is the rise in the market in the immediate aftermath of the latest jobs report showing unemployment dropping from 14.7% in April to 13.3% in May, when the forecasts called for 20%. Never mind the unemployment rates for black workers increased, the traditional measurement might undercount unemployment and not fully capture the economic pain, a misclassification of temporarily laid off workers as employed could have understated the unemployment rate, or even this lower figure was still higher than the peak of 10% during the Great Recession.