The U.S. is in a recession that will see unemployment soar and cost trillions of dollars to solve, Gary Cohn, former White House economic advisor and Goldman Sachs executive, told CNBC.
With markets in turmoil and companies announcing a stream of layoffs, the former National Economic Council director under President Donald Trump said it was hard to put an optimistic face on what’s happening now.
“We’re in recession, I’m not going to tell you that we’re not in recession right now. You cannot remove the consumer from the U.S. economy … and say that we’re not in recession,” Cohn said on “Closing Bell. “The unemployment number is going to skyrocket.”
Wall Street forecasts see the unemployment rate likely soaring past 10% in short order even though it most recently was at a 50-year low of 3.5%. Job loss estimates are well into in the millions, likely the fastest move the U.S. has ever seen.
Congress and the administration have been working on stimulus that is expected to be more than any previous such package, Cohn said. Uncertainty over how big that package will be is causing a lot of the current market tumult, he said.
“One of the major issues we’re going to need to solve before markets can substantially rally is the whole credit market issue, the muni issue, what is the Treasury going to issue to pay for all of the things going through Congress right now,” he said. “A lot of what is going through Congress is trillions of dollars, and the federal government is going to need to borrow that money.”
That bailout package should be focused on workers who will get hit hard by the downturn surrounding the coronavirus scare, Cohn added.
“We need to bail out American workers right now,” he said. “They want to work, want to go to work if they could, are unable to, are being told to stay home and are being told not to work.”
Cohn left his position in 2018 after a little more than a year in the Trump administration.
Though his departure featured some acrimony between himself and the president, he said he has maintained ties with his former colleagues.
“I want to be and continue to be as helpful as I can,” he said. “If they need my help, I am willing to help the country in any way I can.”