Mnuchin vows to prevent 20% unemployment in coronavirus response

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks to the press outside of the West Wing of the White House on March 13, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin promised Wednesday that the U.S. will not have a 20% unemployment rate, a day after he reportedly warned Republican senators that they risked seeing that high rate if they did not pass President Donald Trump‘s coronavirus plan.

“I’ve seen that number in the press,” Mnuchin told CNBC’s Jim Cramer in a television interview. “I didn’t in any way say I think we’re going to have that.”

“Let me be clear: If we follow the president’s plan we will not have that,” Mnuchin said.

A day earlier, multiple outlets reported that Mnuchin told GOP lawmakers that the country’s unemployment rate could hit 20% if they failed to act on a proposed coronavirus rescue package.

Treasury officials later pushed back on those reports, saying that Mnuchin was not providing a forecast but trying to illustrate the potential risks of inaction.

“What I said was just a mathematical statement,” Mnuchin told CNBC on Wednesday. “Which is, 40 percent of the people that are employed in the private workforce are employed by companies [of] 500 people and less.”

“It was just a mathematical statement to to say, ‘If half these people were to lose their jobs, this is what it would be,'” he said.

“But we’re not going to let that happen,” Mnuchin added. “This isn’t like the [2008] financial crisis. There will be an end in sight.”

Mnuchin’s words of reassurance did nothing to boost investor confidence, as stocks continued to fall Wednesday, erasing the slight market rebound from a day earlier.

The White House is seeking a stimulus package worth anywhere from $850 billion to more than $1 trillion as the Trump administration looks to battle the economic impact from the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 virus, which is believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has quickly spread to dozens of countries globally. More than 201,000 confirmed cases worldwide and at least 8,007 deaths so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

There are at least 6,496 cases in the United States and at least 114 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

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