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Unite Here Is 85% Unemployed and Still Fighting Like Hell

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No union in Amer­i­ca has been posi­tioned more direct­ly in the bulls­eye of this pandemic’s eco­nom­ic dev­as­ta­tion than Unite Here, the 300,000-member union of hotel, food ser­vice and casi­no work­ers. In April, its mem­bers were suf­fer­ing a stag­ger­ing 98% unem­ploy­ment rate. Almost six months lat­er, the union is stuck at about 85% unem­ploy­ment. Despite that, it is also the only group deter­mined enough to wage a large-scale door knock­ing cam­paign for the Joe Biden tick­et, at a time when the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has com­plete­ly aban­doned its ground game. 

Even as Repub­li­cans push to reopen busi­ness­es and Wall Street con­tin­ues to boom, the sta­tus of Unite Here?—?known as an aggres­sive and polit­i­cal­ly active union that wields seri­ous pow­er with­in entire indus­tries?—?paints a pic­ture of a work­ing class still mired in an exis­ten­tial cri­sis of long term unem­ploy­ment. D. Tay­lor, Unite Here’s gruff inter­na­tion­al pres­i­dent, says that the col­lapse of the trav­el and tourism indus­try that dec­i­mat­ed the union’s jobs con­tin­ues to grind on. ?“There’s no busi­ness trav­el, there’s no con­ven­tions, there’s no for­eign trav­el. The hotel indus­try has real­ly nev­er reopened from the pan­dem­ic,” he says. Like­wise, the shut­down of major sport­ing events and of many col­lege and uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus­es has put many of the union’s indus­tri­al food ser­vice work­ers out of work. And the sched­uled Octo­ber 1 expi­ra­tion of the Con­gres­sion­al air­line res­cue pack­age in the CARES Act will almost cer­tain­ly mean lay­offs for many of the union’s air­port work­ers as well. Even in Las Vegas, a rel­a­tive bright spot that has seen some resump­tion in busi­ness, more than half of Unite Here’s mem­bers are still unem­ployed, accord­ing to Taylor. 

The loss of dues mon­ey from all of those unem­ployed mem­bers has been a large blow to Unite Here’s own inter­nal finances. But the union has not stopped work­ing. Besides help­ing mem­bers win exten­sions of health ben­e­fits and nav­i­gate bro­ken state unem­ploy­ment sys­tems (which Tay­lor calls ?“a joke”), most of the union’s bat­tles are now polit­i­cal. One of their top issues in cities across the nation now is try­ing to ensure that laid off mem­bers retain long term ?“recall rights” to get their old jobs back when busi­ness resumes, so that employ­ers can’t use the pan­dem­ic shut­down as an excuse to get rid of expe­ri­enced union work­ers in favor of new, low­er-priced replacements. 

On a nation­al lev­el, Tay­lor says Con­gress des­per­ate­ly needs to pass anoth­er stim­u­lus bill like the HEROES act to pre­vent more peo­ple from los­ing health care cov­er­age dur­ing this cri­sis, and that there must be a coor­di­nat­ed nation­al strat­e­gy to keep Covid in check. He is not opti­mistic about either. ?“I kind of think we’re back to the ?‘Oliv­er Twist’ days when you deal with this admin­is­tra­tion and Sen­ate Repub­li­cans,” he says. 
Joe Biden marches with Unite Here members in Las Vegas in February of 2020.

Unite Here, like most unions out­side of law enforce­ment, is back­ing the Biden-Har­ris tick­et. They held a vir­tu­al event with Kamala Har­ris this week. (A UH spokesper­son says the union is spend­ing ?“sev­er­al mil­lions” on the elec­tion, and is pulling in addi­tion­al fund­ing from out­side sources as well). At that event, Tay­lor urged Har­ris not to give up on old-fash­ioned door knock­ing?—?some­thing that Unite Here itself is pur­su­ing in the key swing states of Neva­da, Ari­zona, and Florida. 

In fact, the union’s com­mit­ment to knock­ing on doors despite the pan­dem­ic makes it unique in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. Politi­co report­ed last month that the Trump cam­paign is knock­ing on a mil­lion doors a week, and the Biden cam­paign is knock­ing on zero. Tay­lor says that the union has a strict set of safe­ty pro­to­cols, includ­ing social dis­tanc­ing and masks for their vol­un­teers, who car­ry extra masks to hand out to any­one who answers the door with­out one. Thus far, they have not had any cas­es of Covid as a result of the pro­gram. The union plans to knock on a half mil­lion doors in Neva­da, Ari­zona, and Flori­da by elec­tion day. 

“I don’t think there’s any replace­ment for it. I’ve been try­ing to urge every pro­gres­sive group” to start door knock­ing as well, Tay­lor says. ?“I think if they don’t, it’s at their own per­il. Door knock­ing has been a tra­di­tion for decades, and it works. You can’t talk to some­body in a TV screen. There’s a safe way to do it.” 

Despite Taylor’s urg­ing, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty itself seems to have made the deci­sion to for­sake door knock­ing entire­ly dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. (Biden’s cam­paign man­ag­er said ear­li­er this month that ?“those met­rics don’t have any impact on reach­ing vot­ers.) The Biden cam­paign, there­fore, finds itself in the odd posi­tion of rely­ing on a union made up almost entire­ly of peo­ple who are cur­rent­ly unem­ployed to knock on doors in swing states for them, shrug­ging off the union’s strate­gic advice, even as the cam­paign wel­comes its mate­r­i­al support. 

For D. Tay­lor, defeat­ing the ?“patho­log­i­cal liar” Don­ald Trump is a neces­si­ty?—?but get­ting Biden elect­ed is only the begin­ning of orga­nized labor’s work. He is adamant that unions must con­tin­ue to orga­nize, despite the fact that many are just try­ing to sur­vive, in order to avoid the long term fate of ?“try­ing to pro­tect a small­er and small­er piece of the work force.” He is equal­ly adamant that unions need to lean hard on Biden in order to make him do what must be done for work­ing peo­ple. ?“If we don’t put pres­sure on folks on an ongo­ing basis, they rarely do the hard things that need to be done,” Tay­lor says. 

“I think this [elec­tion] is gonna be a barn burn­er. If any­one assumes vic­to­ry, that’s a guar­an­teed defeat.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected]


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‘A tale of 2 recessions’: As rich Americans get richer, the bottom half struggles

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The path toward economic recovery in the U.S. has become sharply divided, with wealthier Americans earning and saving at record levels while the poorest struggle to pay their bills and put food on the table.

The result is a splintered economic picture characterized by high highs — the stock market has hit record levels — and incongruous low lows: Nearly 30 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits, and the jobless rate stands at 8.4 percent. And that dichotomy, economists fear, could obscure the need for an additional economic stimulus that most say is sorely needed.

The trend is on track to exacerbate dramatic wealth and income gaps in the U.S., where divides are already wider than any other nation in the G-7, a group of major developed countries. Spiraling inequality can also contribute to political and financial instability, fuel social unrest and extend any economic recession.

The growing divide could also have damaging implications for President Donald Trump’s reelection bid. Economic downturns historically have been harmful if not fatal for incumbent presidents, and Trump’s base of working-class, blue-collar voters in the Midwest are among the demographics hurting the most. The White House has worked to highlight a rapid economic recovery as a primary reason to reelect the president, but his support on the issue is slipping: Nearly 3 in 5 people say the economy is on the wrong track, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

Democrats are now seizing on what they see as an opportunity to hit the president on what had been one of his strongest reelection arguments.

“The economic inequities that began before the downturn have only worsened under this failed presidency,” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Friday. “No one thought they’d lose their job for good or see small businesses shut down en masse. But that kind of recovery requires leadership — leadership we didn’t have, and still don’t have.”

Recent economic data and surveys have laid bare the growing divide. Americans saved a stunning $3.2 trillion in July, the same month that more than 1 in 7 households with children told the U.S. Census Bureau they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food. More than a quarter of adults surveyed have reported paying down debt faster than usual, according to a new AP-NORC poll, while the same proportion said they have been unable to make rent or mortgage payments or pay a bill.

A historic House vote on marijuana legalization will take place later this month. We break down why Democrats are voting on the bill despite the fact that it’ll be dead upon arrival in the Senate.

And while the employment rate for high-wage workers has almost entirely recovered — by mid-July it was down just 1 percent from January — it remains down 15.4 percent for low-wage workers, according to Harvard’s Opportunity Insights economic tracker.

“What that’s created is this tale of two recessions,” said Beth Akers, a labor economist with the Manhattan Institute who worked on the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. “There are so obviously complete communities that have been almost entirely unscathed by Covid, while others are entirely devastated.”

Trump and his allies have seized on the strength of the stock market and positive growth in areas like manufacturing and retail sales as evidence of what they have been calling a “V-shaped recovery”: a sharp drop-off followed by rapid growth.

But economists say that argument fails to see the larger picture, one where roughly a million laid-off workers are filing for unemployment benefits each week, millions more have seen their pay and hours cut, and permanent job losses are rising. The economy gained 1.4 million jobs in August, the Labor Department reported Friday, but the pace of job growth has slowed at a time when less than half of the jobs lost earlier this year have been recovered.

Some economists have begun to refer to the recovery as “K-shaped,” because while some households and communities have mostly recovered, others are continuing to struggle — or even seeing their situation deteriorate further.

“If you just look at the top of the K, it’s a V — but you can’t just look at what’s above water,” said Claudia Sahm, director of macroeconomic policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. “There could be a whole iceberg underneath it that you’re going to plow into.”

The burden is falling heavily on the poorest Americans, who are more likely to be out of work and less likely to have savings to lean on to weather the crisis. While recessions are always hardest on the poor, the coronavirus downturn has amplified those effects because shutdowns and widespread closures have wiped out low-wage jobs in industries like leisure and hospitality.

Highly touted gains in the stock market, meanwhile, help only the wealthiest 10 percent or so of households, as most others own little or no stock.

The disconnect between the stock market and the broader economy has been stark. On the same day in late August that MGM Resorts announced it would be laying off a quarter of its workforce, throwing some 18,000 workers into unemployment, its stock price jumped more than 6 percent, reaching its highest closing price since the start of March.

“The haves and the have-nots, there’s always been a distinction,” Sahm said. But now, she added, “we are widening this in a way I don’t think people have really wrapped their head around.”

A store going out of business
A customer leaves a retail store, which is going out of business, during the coronavirus pandemic. | Lynne Sladky/AP Photo

Without further stimulus, the situation appears poised to get worse. Economic growth until now had been led by increasing levels of consumer spending, buoyed by stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits that gave many people, including jobless workers, more money to spend.

Low-income consumers have led the way, and they spent slightly more in August than they did in January, according to the Opportunity Insights tracker — even as middle- and high-income consumers are still spending less.

But those low-income consumers were also the most dependent on the extra $600 per week in boosted unemployment benefits, which expired in July. Since that lapsed — and since Congress appears unlikely to extend it any time soon, if at all — “we’re likely to see other macroeconomic numbers really fall off a cliff in the coming weeks,” Akers said.

The expected drop in spending, paired with the expiration of economic relief initiatives like the Paycheck Protection Program, could also spell trouble for businesses in the coming months. Many economists expect a wave of bankruptcies and business closures in the fall, contributing to further layoffs.

In that sector, too, owners are feeling disparate impacts. More than 1 in 5 small business owners reported that sales are still 50 percent or less than where they were before the pandemic, according to a recent survey from the National Federation of Independent Business, and the same proportion say they will need to close their doors if current economic conditions do not improve within six months.

At the same time, however, half said they are nearly back to where they were before, and approximately 1 in 7 owners say they are doing better now than they were before the pandemic, the survey showed.

Those diverging narratives could be understating the need for further stimulus by smoothing over some of the deeper weaknesses in the labor market and the economy, experts say.

“This is a case where the averages tell a different story than the underlying data itself,” said Peter Atwater, an adjunct economics professor at William & Mary.

While Republicans appear to be embracing the idea of further “targeted” aid, they are also touting what Trump has called a “rocket-ship” economic recovery and emphasizing record-breaking growth while downplaying the record-breaking losses that preceded it.

“There’s no question the recovery has beat expectations,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, this week on a press call with reporters.

Talks between the White House and Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have been stalled for weeks. The Senate is set to return from its summer recess next week with no clear path forward on a relief package.

“People are in these bubbles,” Atwater said. “And if people aren’t leaving their homes, are not really getting out, it’s unlikely that they’re seeing the magnitude of the downside of this K-shaped recovery.”

This article originally appeared at Politico on September 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor’s degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan’s on the hunt for the city’s best Carolina BBQ — and still rooting for the Heels.


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What are the best and worst states to work in during the coronavirus pandemic?

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The coronavirus pandemic has dealt blow after blow to U.S. workers. The two biggest: Unemployment is sky-high, and many of the jobs that are left are suddenly unsafe. 

But as with so many things, from minimum wage to paid sick leave to enforcement of existing laws, how bad workers have it varies dramatically from state to state. Now, you can find out how your state ranks on labor protections in the era of COVID-19, thanks to a new report from Oxfam America. Oxfam ranked states by worker protections, healthcare, and unemployment, coming up with an overall ranking that puts Washington State, New Jersey, and California at the top, and Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia at the bottom.

At $275, Alabama’s maximum unemployment benefit is only a little higher than the minimum of $240 in Massachusetts—and in Puerto Rico, the maximum is just $190. But that’s not the only way Alabama is committed to hurting working families: “Alabama has no moratorium on evictions or utilities being shut off; no mandated paid sick or family leave; and no requirements for personal protective equipment for workers. In addition, the governor issued an executive order to protect businesses and health care providers from lawsuits resulting from COVID-19.”

Oxfam America is calling on states to:

  • Improve worker protections to ensure paid sick time, paid family and medical leave programs, and childcare for all workers
  • Expand Medicaid
  • Increase unemployment payments

Regardless of what state you live in, employers are going to vary in how much they’re doing to protect workers’ safety. The AFL-CIO has a new checklist to determine how safe you are at work, with information about workplace safety—including how to organize for it.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on September 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent in August

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The unemployment rate dropped to 8.4 percent in August, the Labor Department reported on Friday, marking the fourth month of declines even as the pace of job growth is slowing.

The August rate is down from its April peak of 14.7 percent, but still remains far above the 3.5 percent recorded in February, before coronavirus shutdowns took hold.

The economy recovered 1.4 million jobs last month, the report showed. That’s a slowdown from the previous month’s gain of a revised 1.7 million and from the 4.8 million recovered in June.

After four straight months of growth, fewer than half of the more than 23 million jobs lost in March and April have been recovered.

“Slowing job growth is a disaster when you are 11.8 million jobs in the hole,” Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist at the Labor Department, posted on Twitter Friday. “This is not the V-shaped recovery that could get us out of this crisis in a reasonable timeframe.”

The data released Friday morning are the results of a survey conducted in mid-August, reflecting some of the earliest effects since enhanced federal unemployment benefits expired at the end of July. The growth was led by rehires in retail, education, leisure and professional services. It also includes nearly 240,000 workers the government temporarily hired to work on the 2020 Census.

Economists warn the labor market may well have grown weaker since the report was conducted, however. Many expect further layoffs through the fall especially if Congress fails to pass further stimulus relief, as an expected drop in consumer spending, the expiration of a small business relief program and other factors could spur a wave of business closures across the country.

The number of permanent job losses is also rising, a signal that damage to the labor market is likely to be long-lasting. The vast majority of unemployed workers are classified as on temporary layoff, indicating they still expect to return to their previous jobs. But permanent losses climbed to 3.4 million in August, the report showed, up from July’s 2.9 million.

White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow hailed the latest numbers on Friday, with the caveat that “we are not out of the woods.” He also downplayed the need for further stimulus, saying in an interview on Bloomberg TV that he believed the economy was “self-sustaining” and could survive without an immediate deal in Congress.

“We can absolutely live with it,” he said, adding, “It depends on the package. A bad package would not be helpful, a smart, good package, well-targeted would be helpful.”

The unemployment rate is dropping fastest for white workers, the report shows, while employment among minority workers is recovering at a slower rate.

The white unemployment rate for white people fell to 7.3 percent in August, the report showed, a drop of 6.9 percent from its April peak. The unemployment rate for Black people, meanwhile, stands at 13.0 percent, a drop of 3.7 percent from its April level.

This article originally appeared at Politico on September 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor’s degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan’s on the hunt for the city’s best Carolina BBQ — and still rooting for the Heels.


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U.S. workers filed 881K claims for jobless benefits last week

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More than 880,000 people filed new applications for unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.

The numbers are not directly comparable to previous weeks because of a change the Labor Department made in how it calculates the claims, which are seasonally adjusted. The number appears lower than the previous week’s 1 million claims, but that reflects a change in the Labor Department’s methodology rather than a strengthening of the U.S. labor market, economists say.

On an unadjusted basis, unemployment claims under state programs rose 0.9 percent from the previous week.

An additional 760,000 laid-off workers filed for jobless aid under the new pandemic unemployment assistance program, created for those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits like the self-employed and gig workers. That also marks a rise from the previous week’s 607,806 claims under that program.

Overall claims remain at historic highs. In total, more than 29.2 million workers are receiving unemployment insurance benefits, the Labor Department said, an increase from the prior week’s 27 million.

Why the change? The Labor Department regularly reports seasonally adjusted data, which accounts for expected changes in the labor market, such as when a large number of temporary retail employees get laid off after the holidays.

But economists say that methodology had been causing major distortions to the data during this recession, given how many workers were filing for unemployment due to unexpected coronavirus shutdowns. Experts welcome the change, which they say should make the numbers more accurate in the future, but they warn against trying to compare this week’s seasonally adjusted data to weeks prior.

Regardless of the change in calculations, non-seasonally adjusted data shows overall claims rose last week to 833,352 from 825,761 the week before.

What’s next: The Labor Department will report jobs numbers for the month of August on Friday. The July report showed an overall unemployment rate of 10.2 percent, and while most economists expect that number to fall slightly in August, many expect the pace of job growth will slow down.

This article originally appeared at Politico on August 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor’s degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan’s on the hunt for the city’s best Carolina BBQ — and still rooting for the Heels.


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Mark Meadows predicts no Covid-19 relief bill until after September

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Matthew Choi, Digital Producer, POLITICO, photographed Sept. 3, 2019 in Arlington, VA. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday he is not optimistic about reaching a new coronavirus relief deal before the end of September, predicting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will use the government funding cliff at the end of next month as leverage to strike a deal on pandemic aid.

Speaking with POLITICO’s Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer, Meadows said his staff had reached out to Pelosi’s office Tuesday but added that he does not anticipate a response. The White House chief of staff said lawmakers from both parties have privately expressed to him a desire to make progress on coronavirus relief. The hold up, Meadows said he suspects, is that Pelosi is holding back her party’s rank and file in order to secure more Democratic priorities in any legislation.

“It’s really been Speaker Pelosi really driving this train as a conductor more so than really anybody,” Meadows said. “And I think privately she says she wants a deal and publicly she says she wants a deal, but when it comes to dealing with Republicans and the administration, we haven’t seen a lot of action.”https://4fee4843261b3bebc0da3603fc4c1230.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told POLITICO that a member of Meadows’ staff texted the speaker’s staff to confirm they had the correct number for the chief of staff, but did not mention resuming talks. Meadows also said he would call Pelosi during an interview on ABC News on Sunday, but Hammill said he never did.

“Democrats have compromised in these negotiations,” Hammill said in a statement to POLITICO. “We offered to come down $1 trillion if the White House would come up $1 trillion. We welcome the White House back to the negotiating table but they must meet us halfway.”

Senate Republicans floated a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill earlier this month that could be tacked onto a continuing resolution to keep the government funded beyond the end of next month. That proposal also included $10 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, which has faced economic precarity during the pandemic even as millions of Americans are expected to cast ballots in November’s presidential election by mail. But Democrats rejected that measure as a piecemeal solution

Senate Democrats, for their part, have placed blame on Republicans for being unwilling to negotiate a comprehensive coronavirus relief package. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) predicted Republicans would turn a more amenable leaf after the Republican National Convention ends this week.

“It was clear the White House, for some reason, they wanted to go into their convention blaming Democrats,” Kaine said last week.

This article originally appeared at Politico on August 26, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Matthew Choi is a breaking news reporter. Matthew started at POLITICO as an editorial intern on the breaking news team. He later joined staff full-time as a digital producer. Previously, he was a reporting fellow with the Texas Tribune and managing editor at The Daily Northwestern. Matthew studied journalism and political science at Northwestern University, and enjoys listening to Simon and Garfunkel while cooking French country food.


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Economy hurting after Congress fails to act on stimulus

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Just weeks after Washington lawmakers allowed a $600-a-week boost in payments for millions of unemployed workers to expire, the economy is already starting to feel the pain.

The number of workers lining up for jobless aid has been rising. The retail and delivery sectors, which especially benefited from laid-off Americans spending the extra cash, have cut back on hiring. Walmart, the nation’s biggest retailer, reported record profits in the second quarter thanks to government aid to consumers but now says sales growth is slowing.

As lawmakers dig in their heels over how much cash to spend to prop up the pandemic-battered economy, the cut in unemployment aid and the expiration of a program that provided more than $500 billion in loans to small businesses to keep workers on the job are threatening to drag on the recovery. That’s likely to ratchet up pressure on Congress and the White House to come to a deal on a new economic relief package.

Unemployment insurance added about $25 billion a week to the economy during the four months the additional aid was in place, and now since the expiration of the extra benefit, it’s running closer to $10 billion, former U.S. Treasury economist Ernie Tedeschi said. That’s going to have “devastating individual implications for the families that receive that payment and also going to have economic implications for America as a whole,” he said.

“When you have $60 billion less going to families,” Tedeschi added, “that means that there’s going to be something close to that less in spending.”

With less money to spend on groceries, gas and other goods, the lapse of federal pandemic aid has aggravated the labor market outlook. Businesses acutely affected by consumption have started hiring fewer workers, according to Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed Hiring Lab. Listings for jobs in beauty and wellness seeking workers like hairdressers, nail technicians, fitness instructors and cosmetologists are falling, as are those for retailing and delivery drivers and truckers.

The number of job listings posted in the week ending Aug. 14 were 20 percent lower than they were at this time in 2019 — and the first drop the website has seen since late April, according to Indeed.

“Really the last few weeks we’ve started to see a significant slowdown in the trend in job postings,” Bunker said.

Hiring, hours worked and the number of employees working over the last six weeks — a period that began before the extra unemployment aid ended on July 31 — has slowed down or flatlined, according to data from workforce management platforms Kronos and Homebase.

At the same time, the number of jobless claims rose to 1.1 million in the week ending Aug. 15, halting several weeks of decline and suggesting that large numbers of people are still being pushed out of work due to the pandemic.

Economists say the July-to-August plateau is especially concerning because jobs usually pick up this time of year due to increased demand in the summer season.

“We’re expecting the next few months to be — even barring a significant recurrence of some Covid hot spots — a very slow recovery,” said David Gilbertson, vice president at Kronos.

Republican lawmakers have argued that the $600-a-week boost allowed many laid-off workers to make more money at home than they earned at their previous jobs. That, they said, was creating a disincentive for them to return to work and slowing down the economic recovery.

But the lack of a pickup in business activity is “a warning sign,” said Ray Sandza, vice president of data and analytics at Homebase. “Any expectation that removing [unemployment insurance] benefits was going to suddenly fill a bunch of jobs was, predictably, misplaced,” he added in an email. “There just aren’t enough jobs to go around right now; it’s not a supply issue.”

According to the Real-Time Population Survey, which was created by researchers at Arizona State University and Virginia Commonwealth University, the unemployment rate was 15.5 percent in the week ending Aug. 15.

“There was a really rapid recovery going on in May and June, and then since June things still have been modestly getting better but just at a much slower pace,” said Adam Blandin, assistant professor of economics at VCU, who helps develop the real-time survey. “And between the new virus cases and the changes in policy … the million dollar question is are we going to stay at something above 10 percent unemployment, for a long period, or is it going to continue to go down like it did early in the summer?”

Without another stimulus deal from Congress and less money for Americans to spend, companies are unlikely to risk expanding their workforce, meaning fewer jobs available for laid-off workers to fill and tamer growth in the economy.

“Consumers are not spending money, at least in some sectors,” Gilbertson of Kronos added. “The face of our economy is changing.”

Until businesses are confident that Americans will start spending more, “they’re probably not going to be expanding their hiring,” he said.

The stock market’s robust performance isn’t doing much to spur lawmakers into agreeing to provide more relief. While fears of a slowdown led shares to plummet in March — and motivated Congress to take sweeping action to rescue the economy — the precarious state of the nation’s workforce now hasn’t generated a similar reaction.

While jobless Americans are facing dire economic conditions, Wall Street has gained back all the losses it suffered early on in the pandemic. The S&P 500 has been hitting record highs.

Even a slide in share prices at the opening bell Thursday, in response to newly rising unemployment claims, was short-lived as prices recovered by midday.

The stock market also isn’t representative of most Americans, especially the low-wage workers hit hardest by the recession. While about half of American families own stocks, the vast majority of the value of shares is held by wealthier investors.

The stalemate in Washington over how much additional Covid-19 aid the federal government will offer to help struggling businesses and Americans has also clouded the outlook for large companies, many of which have done considerably well during the pandemic.

When Walmart touted its second-quarter profits during its quarterly earnings call on Aug. 18, it cited spending “aided by government stimulus.” But Brett Biggs, the chief financial officer and executive vice president, said sales began to revert back to normal toward the end of the quarter when $1,200 stimulus checks the government had doled out to millions of Americans ran out.

“There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now and so much variance in how customers are feeling about their situation,” said Douglas McMillon, Walmart’s president and CEO, during the call.

Target, bracing for an additional drop in expected fall demand because of schools switching to remote learning, has offered to extend its back-to-school season.

“It’s a very challenging environment for us to provide guidance,” Brian Cornell, the chairman and CEO of Target, said during the company’s earnings call Wednesday. “We’ve got the pandemic in front of us. We’ve got uncertainty about back to school, back to college, the state of the economy.”

Now that laid-off workers are no longer receiving the extra $600-per-week unemployment payment, Behnaz Mansouri of the Unemployment Law Project, which provides services to laid-off workers in Washington state, says her clients are facing more difficult choices than they encountered at the beginning of the pandemic.

The year “has been made bearable by this patchwork of financial assistance,” Mansouri said. “And now without it, I fear, it’s going to become unbearable.”

“I’m hearing a lot of people struggling to assess their living situations over the next couple of months,” she added. “Do they potentially start looking for jobs, even if they’re in a high risk category or live with someone who’s in a higher risk category?”

Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.


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Florida may turn down Trump’s plan to increase jobless aid

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Republican and Democratic legislators alike say they don’t understand why Florida hasn’t acted yet.

TALLAHASSEE — Although Florida has some of the lowest unemployment payments in the nation, Gov. Ron DeSantis remains undecided about whether to ask for the stripped-down federal benefits recently authorized by President Donald Trump.

Eleven states have applied for a $400 weekly extra unemployment payment program, which was initiated following Trump’s expansion of jobless aid via executive action. Florida, however, remains on the sidelines and it could stay that way.

The longer the DeSantis administration delays, the longer it will take for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Floridians to receive the extra help Trump promised — if the state eventually does apply for it. There is also a risk that the limited federal funding available could run out before the state acts.

But the delay speaks to the conundrum that Trump’s actions pose for Florida, a state led by a key campaign ally of the president. While extending the benefits could pump tens of millions into the battleground state’s economy, the federal proposal could prove extremely costly — and unwieldy — for the state to carry out given the rules surrounding the effort.

When asked about the funding on Thursday, a spokesperson for DeSantis did not say when — or if — Florida plans to act.

“Florida is currently reviewing guidance issued by the Department of Labor and the Federal Emergency Management Administration to determine the best course of action that will preserve the state’s financial stability while providing important assistance to Floridians in need,” said Cody McCloud, a spokesperson for the governor.

Republican and Democratic legislators alike say they don’t understand why Florida hasn’t acted yet.

“We should be exploring every option and following the lead of other states that have been successful,” said State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

Florida’s tourist-based economy collapsed amid the coronavirus pandemic and the forced business shutdown. More than 3.5 million Floridians have filed jobless claims since mid-March — including another 66,000 who filed their initial claim last week. The state has paid out more than $13 billion in the last five months, but most of that money has been an extra $600 a week payment that Congress included in the CARES Act. That extra payment expired at the end of July, but the House and Senate have been at odds over a new coronavirus relief package.

Trump stepped in and authorized dipping into $44 billion worth of disaster relief funds to pay for a new round of extra benefits. DeSantis last week suggested he was considering having Florida apply to FEMA to receive what is being called “lost wages assistance.”

The problem, however, is that the FEMA aid requires 25 percent matching money from states. Initially Trump suggested states could use unspent money that was part of the CARES Act but DeSantis has told the White House that such an approach could not work. The governor plans to use the more than $5 billion sent to Florida to help pay for coronavirus response and to patch holes in the state’s budget.

Federal authorities then told states they could use money they are already spending on state unemployment benefits to count toward the matching requirement. But there are complications with that approach as well. The first obstacle is that money spent by the state must be on or after Aug. 1.

That’s a problem because Florida benefits — which pay out a maximum of $275 a week — are capped at 12 weeks. Congress authorized additional payments to workers whose state benefits are exhausted but those are paid entirely out of federal aid. Many jobless Floridians already have rolled over from the state program to the federal one. Florida’s budget is in tatters and there’s no other place the state could easily get the matching money. DeSantis suggested that the state could perhaps borrow money for its unemployment trust fund, but such a move risks triggering tax hikes on employers.

Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy for the Florida AFL-CIO, said all the complications with the extra aid show that it’s “not a workable solution.”

“This really seems like a campaign soundbite just to get us through November with no real understanding how this will work,” Templin said.

Rep. Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach) saaid DeSantis still needs to act quickly and take care of Floridians reeling from the economic collapse.

“If Donald Trump is going to offer him a bucket and a mop then he needs to take the bucket and mop and clean up the mess,” Jenne said.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Gary Fineout came to POLITICO Florida in February 2019 after spending more than two decades covering Florida politics and government.


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Unemployment claims jump back over 1 million

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States have been processing roughly 1 million new unemployment applications each week since mid-March.

The number of workers applying for unemployment benefits jumped to 1.1 million last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, the first time in two weeks that new claims have gone up.

States have been processing roughly 1 million new unemployment applications each week since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping through the country, forcing the shutdown of many businesses.

An additional 542,797 workers filed for jobless aid under the new pandemic unemployment assistance program, created for those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits like the self-employed and gig workers.

How bad is it?: New jobless applications filed in state programs are still far above the previous record of 695,000 in 1982 — and have topped that record for 22 weeks in a row.

That figure also doesn’t include the thousands of workers who are applying for jobless benefits under the federal pandemic assistance program.

In total, there are more than 28 million people receiving jobless benefits, the department said.

New Jersey saw the largest jump in new claims last week, reporting an estimated 24,646 new applications, a more than 10,000 increase from the previous week. New York also received 62,397 new claims last week, nearly 10,000 more than it saw the week before.

Where’s Congress?: Lawmakers left Washington after Democratic leaders and the White House were unable to agree on another round of pandemic aid.

The House will gavel in for a rare weekend session on Saturday to vote on a bill to shore up the U.S. Postal Service, but Democratic leaders have been facing pressure within the party to also vote on aid programs like beefed-up unemployment insurance. Democrats are considering a proposal that would automatically extend jobless benefits to millions of Americans if the economic and health crises continue.

Unemployed workers were receiving an extra $600-a-week boost from the federal government under a program created by the CARES Act, the massive economic relief bill passed in March. But those payments expired on July 31, cutting most unemployed workers’ checks by at least 50 percent.

Republicans meanwhile, are planning to introduce a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill that is expected to include $300 in boosted weekly federal unemployment benefits until Dec. 27.

What are states doing?: Eleven states so far have applied to tap into a $400 extra unemployment payment program initiated following President Donald Trump’s move to expand jobless aid via executive action.

Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Utah have been approved for extra federal assistance, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The program was launched after Trump on Aug. 8 issued an executive memorandum instructing FEMA to use disaster relief funding to send the extra $400 a week to unemployed workers.

But laid-off workers in those states will probably not see the extra cash on their unemployment checks for several weeks. The president’s memo required states to create and implement a new system and fund one-fourth of the additional $400 benefit.

Because states have to adjust their unemployment insurance system to access the funds and “accommodate program requirements,” the DOL estimates it will take each state three weeks to set up the program.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.

 


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New unemployment claims fall below 1 million for the first time in five months

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The number of workers filing jobless claims last week fell to 963,000.

New unemployment claims fell last week to 963,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday, the first time in months the figure has been less than 1 million.

An additional 488,622 laid-off workers filed for jobless aid under the new pandemic unemployment assistance program, created for those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits like the self-employed and gig workers.

Though the numbers are gradually falling, the report indicates workers are still being pushed out of their jobs at historic levels during the coronavirus pandemic.

New applications filed in state programs are still far above the previous record of 695,000 in 1982, fueling concerns that the economic recovery may not be fully under way.

In total, more than 25 million people are currently receiving jobless benefits, according to DOL.

Why it matters: Another week of elevated unemployment claims is likely to add more pressure on lawmakers to reach a deal on another coronavirus aid package. Despite nearly three weeks of negotiations, party leaders are no closer to a deal, and it’s likely the stalemate will drag into September.

A major sticking point in the talks is how much extra aid Congress should give to laid-off workers. President Donald Trump signed a bill in March that included an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits, but that payment expired on July 31.

Democrats want to extend the extra jobless aid into 2021. But Republicans don’t want the benefit to continue at $600, arguing that it paid some workers more to be unemployed than they earned at their jobs and would encourage people not to return to work.

To prod negotiations along, Trump over the weekend signed an executive action that would offer jobless workers an extra $400 a week. But, the move would require states to opt in, implement a new system, and fund one-fourth of the aid. Governors of some states have complained that Trump’s plan would be too expensive or logistically impossible.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.


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