A Texas monument to Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth, a holiday which commemorates the end of slavery in the US. It has its roots in the long-awaited moment of emancipation in Texas, where more than 250,000 enslaved black people received news on June 19, 1865 – more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – that they were free.

Millions of African Americans have long celebrated Juneteenth. And there is now a push in Congress to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

The Public Health
New reported infections and hospitalizations remain a source of concern for public health officials and some political leaders. Texas, Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma are all reporting growing infection numbers.

Several studies this month support wearing masks to curb coronavirus transmission, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends their use as a protective measure.

Despite this evidence, mandatory mask protocols remain controversial, particularly among conservatives. The sheriff of Orange County, CA has said that he will not enforce the recently announced statewide mandate, while Nebraska’s Republican governor has threatened to withhold funding from any communities that require masks to be worn in official buildings.

The Economy
Another 1.5 million Americans applied for state unemployment benefits last week, signaling that the pandemic continues to impact the economy even as the rate of job losses is slowing. This was higher than the consensus forecast of 1.3 million. Observers of the labor market are suggesting that while layoffs at the start of the shutdown in March were likely intended to be temporary, job cuts now are probably a long-term, strategic business decision.

Continuing claims are another important metric for the strength of the economy. There were 20.5 million claims last week, down very slightly from 20.6 million. Economists are hopeful that these figures should begin to decline as states allow business activity to resume.

Since the pandemic began, more than 48 million Americans have lost their jobs.

The Markets
Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 40 points, or 0.15%, at 26,080. The broader S&P 500 Index closed up slightly, by 0.06%, at 3,115. Both indices are up significantly since the mid-March lows, but are still down over 10% from their most recent highs.

The 10-year Treasury note yield fell by 0.04% to 0.69% yesterday. The longer-maturity 30-year bond yield fell slightly more, to 1.46%. Stating the obvious, interest rates remain near historically low levels.

COVID-19 Numbers
Globally, over 8.5 million have contracted the coronavirus, and more than 454,000 have died. In the US, nearly 2.2 million have been infected, and nearly 119,000 have perished. Regrettably, the US remains an outlier in this global pandemic – with just over 4% of the world’s population, we have over 25% of its cases and fatalities.

The CDC said Thursday that the US death toll from the coronavirus could rise to as high as 145,000 by mid-July, meaning as many as 26,000 Americans could die in the next few weeks.

Looking Forward
It’s not an exaggeration to say that our destiny is in our hands. It seems clear that the opening of the US economy will continue, regardless of whether infection and hospitalization rates rise. So, success in limiting the virus’s spread will depend on our collective willingness to wear masks, follow social distancing guidelines, and maintain good hygiene. Only time will tell if we will be successful.

Keep the faith, be safe and stay healthy.

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