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New unemployment claims rose last week to 1.4M, ending months of declines

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The Department of Labor data will likely fuel the urgency in Washington to quickly extend enhanced federal pandemic unemployment benefits.

Unemployment claims rose to 1.4 million last week, up about 100,000 from the week before, the Labor Department reported, ending 15 weeks of consecutive declines in new applications.

An additional 975,000 people applied for aid under the temporary federal pandemic unemployment assistance program, created to provide jobless aid to workers ineligible for traditional unemployment benefits, such as gig workers.

The increase in the number of workers seeking new aid comes as several states like California, Texas and Florida have closed some businesses down again, and coronavirus cases have shot up across the United States.

More than 30 million Americans are currently on unemployment and several states have delayed reopening plans in recent weeks — shrinking the already small pool of available work. 

“The combined effect of rising layoffs, expiring unemployment benefits and escalating coronavirus outbreaks sets up a perfect economic storm that could easily derail the weakening economy’s fledgling recovery,” said Glassdoor Senior Economist Daniel Zhao in reaction to the report.

The data will fuel the urgency in Washington to extend the enhanced federal pandemic unemployment benefits set to expire this weekend, as lawmakers debate another economic rescue package. 

Republicans were originally opposed to continuing the extra $600-a-week jobless benefit, but are now on board with offering more federal unemployment aid — at a lower amount. 

However, it’s already too late to prevent a lapse in benefits for millions of workers. Some states with antiquated systems won’t be able to update their computers in time to prevent a gap.

The rise in jobless claims confirms economists’ fears that despite declines in the unemployment rate in May and June, the economy is still scrambling to recover from the pandemic-induced shock.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office forecast earlier this month that unemployment will continue to climb, peaking at 14 percent in the third quarter of this year.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on July 23, 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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How Does FMLA Work and What Should I Know About Hiring Minors for Seasonal Work?

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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave each year. In addition, employers must maintain employees’ group health benefits during the leave as if employees continued to work instead of taking leave. 

Also, employees are also entitled to return to their same or an equivalent job at the end of their FMLA leave.

This article will look at some of the details of this important employment law.

What is FMLA? 

The FMLA is a federal law enacted in 1993 that entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons.

How does FMLA work?

Eligible employees are allowed to take 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for any of the following reasons: 

  • The birth of a child and to care for the newborn within one year of birth;
  • The placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for that child within one year of placement;
  • To care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who’s experiencing a serious health condition;
  • An employee’s own serious health condition that makes him or her unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
  • Any qualifying emergency or urgent need stemming from the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty” ;

or 

  • Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury, or illness if the eligible employee is the servicemember’s spouse, child, parent, or next of kin (known as “military caregiver leave”).

Who’s Eligible for FMLA?

The eligibility requirements are the same for all employees, no matter the reason for the requested leave. There are four elements that an employee must satisfy to be eligible for FMLA. The employee must:

  1. Work for a covered employer (see below);
  2. Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months as of the date the FMLA leave is to begin;
  3. Have at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12-month period immediately prior to the date the FMLA leave is to begin; and 
  4. Work at a location where the employer employs at least 50 employees within 75 miles of that worksite as of the date when the employee gives notice of the need for leave.

To What Employers Does the FMLA apply?

The FMLA applies to all:

  • Public agencies, such as all local, state, and federal employers, and local education agencies (schools); and
  • Private sector employers who employ 50+ employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including joint employers and successors of covered employers.

Can an Employer Deny FMLA? 

Yes, in some situations—mainly because the employer or the employer doe not meet the eligibility criteria.

An employer can deny FMLA leave for non-qualified events or for employees who aren’t covered. So, employees who work for a covered employer but don’t qualify for FMLA may be denied FMLA leave. Again, in order to qualify for benefits, an employee must be employed with the company for at least 12 months and worked for at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the leave. The employee must also work at a location with 50+ employees or with 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

In addition, private sector employers aren’t required to provide FMLA benefits if they have fewer than 50 employees. As a result, an employee who would otherwise be eligible for FMLA can be denied if his or her employer isn’t required to offer the benefits. 

How Does the Law Protect Someone under the FMLA? 

The FMLA protects a covered employee from harassment, discrimination, or interference from employer for requesting time off. An employer is prohibited from interfering with, restraining, or denying the exercise of FMLA rights, retaliating against the employee for filing a complaint and cooperating with the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD), or bringing private action to court.

In addition to this protection from any form of workplace retaliation or discrimination resulting from an employee’s leave, an employer is required under the FMLA to do the following:

  • Reinstate the employee to his or her same position or a comparable position when he or she returns to work after their leave; and
  • Maintain the employee’s group health benefits while they are on leave. 

An employer who doesn’t reinstate a returning employee is in violation of the FMLA and is liable for lost wages. If an employer cancels the employee’s benefits illegally while he or she is on FMLA leave, the employer may be required to pay for damages resulting from the lack of health care coverage. 

What Should I Know About Hiring Minors For Seasonal Work?

Employers should know that the U.S. Department of Labor allows children who are 14 or 15 years of age to be employed outside of school hours in a variety of non-manufacturing and non-hazardous jobs for limited periods of time and under specified conditions. Note that any work not specifically allowed for 14- and 15-year-olds, as listed in the Department’s child labor regulations, is strictly prohibited. 

However, youths who are 16 or 17 may be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation other than those declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. When a youth reaches the age of 18, he or she is no longer subject to the federal youth employment provisions.

Minors hired for seasonal work most likely would not be eligible for FMLA because the positions are seasonal in nature and would not satisfy the 12-month requirement.

About the Author: Kurt R. Mattson is the President of Union Legal Research. He has spent more than 30 years in the legal services industry as a research attorney, writer, editor, and marketer. 


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Democrats say DOL keeping workers in the dark about paid leave

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“They’re not stupid,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said. “They know how to get the word out. They just don’t want to.”

An Indiana truck driver denied paid leave while experiencing coronavirus symptoms. An Arizona HVAC employee paid for just two of 13 days spent in self-quarantine. A California USPS worker rejected for paid leave when caring for her child whose school was closed.

These are just a few of the 700-plus cases that employees who became temporarily entitled to paid leave under coronavirus response legislation have brought against their employers.

Though the Families First package enacted emergency paid leave for as many as 60 million workers, many report being uninformed, misled or in some cases, even threatened by their employers over the new benefit.

DOL says it is educating workers on their rights to the emergency paid leave to the best of its ability, including by fielding phone calls and hosting what it says is hundreds of outreach events. But Democrats and worker advocates say the agency could be doing more and may even be purposely keeping employees in the dark in an attempt to “run the clock” before the provisions expire in December.

“They’re not stupid,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said. “They know how to get the word out. They just don’t want to.”

More than half of Americans are unaware of or believe they are ineligible for the paid leave protections enacted via the coronavirus response legislation, according to a poll released in May by the National Partnership for Women and Families. And a poll released in June by the Paid Leave for All campaign found that just 53 percent of voters have heard a great deal or some about the provisions.

“I don’t think people really understand what their rights are,” said Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), who chairs the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. “We have to do a better job.”

DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, which is responsible for enforcing the Families First paid leave provisions, employed 756 investigators at the end of April, a DOL official told POLITICO. The agency has concluded more than 700 cases related to the legislation, the official said, and there are “hundreds more” under way.

Much of the agency’s education surrounding workers’ entitlement to paid leave under Families First is tied to these cases, the official said. When the division receives a complaint from an employee, part of investigators’ job is to educate the employer in question on the provisions.

The division has also conducted more than 500 outreach events related to Families First, published an online series of FAQ pertaining to the legislation and posted a “Notice of Rights” in more than 10 languages about the provisions for employers to send employees.

That’s “a significant accomplishment, given that prior to March 2020, federal law had never broadly required private employers to provide paid leave,” a DOL spokesperson said in an email.

“[T]he public has taken notice of this material — since [Families First] was enacted, more than 25 million people have visited WHD’s website,” Labor Deputy Secretary Patrick Pizzella wrote in an op-ed this month.

But these steps are not enough, Democrats and advocates say.

“We provided $15 million [to DOL] to administer paid leave,” DeLauro said. “So far, [WHD] have $2.5 million that have been spent on outreach efforts. They don’t want to do it.”

Being active on social media, giving interviews to radio stations and local newspapers, conducting outreach at Covid-19 testing sites and food bank lines and hosting press conferences with mayors and governors are all ways that DOL can and should be going about getting the word out, DeLauro said.

“Congress has put the money on the table, now it is time for this administration to step up and educate Americans on the options and resources available to them,” Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) said in an email.

“This is just a failure on behalf of the administration,” Dawn Huckelbridge, the director of Paid Leave for All campaign, said. “They should be … deploying media, public service announcements, radio, local press. This should be a full ‘know your rights’ campaign.”

“We haven’t seen an effort or an investment or a lot of concern even from the Department of Labor.”

The Wage and Hour Division is working to set up “public awareness campaigns” that involve radio and TV outlets, the DOL official said. The official was unable to provide a timeline for when the campaigns will go into effect.

Aura Hernandez is a McDonald’s employee in California who became entitled to paid leave under Families First. When she developed coronavirus symptoms, she used up all of her accrued time off — and then her employer asked her to come back to work, even though she still felt sick, Hernandez said.

She was never informed that she had additional paid leave available to her under Families First — not even when she threatened to quit. She is now on strike.

“They did not explain what were my rights,” Hernandez said through an interpreter. She never received nor saw a “Notice of Rights” or other educational materials at her place of work, she said.

“The Department of Labor must do more in terms of public education and outreach to publicize the entitlements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said. “With now more than 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths in the United States, the burden cannot fall all onto the workers to understand the various nuances of these newly developed benefits.”

Democrats and advocates point to DOL’s guidance implementing Families First, which excluded employers of health care providers and others from having to comply with the law.

“The Department of Labor gutted the emergency paid leave protections that were passed by Congress, so it’s not a surprise that they’re neglecting their duty to make sure workers heard about them,” Huckelbridge said.

Adams said her subcommittee is working to schedule an oversight hearing at which lawmakers can hear from DOL officials, paid leave advocates, workers and others.

“Sometimes we just have to put the questions out there, ask the question again, because they may be doing more than we think they’re doing,” Adams said. “But we need to know.”

And Democrats may address the issue in their negotiations with Republicans over the next round of coronavirus aid, DeLauro said.

“When we get to dealing with the Senate on this, we’ll get maybe more specific with regard to the kinds of efforts they should be doing,” she said.

With the provisions scheduled to sunset in December, officials have less than six months to educate workers on what they’re entitled to.

“We only really have so much time here,” DeLauro said. “They’re gonna run the clock. That’s what they’d like to do.”

In the meantime, advocates are doing their best to fill in the gaps.

“The advocate community is trying to step up,” Huckelbridge said, citing Paid Leave for All’s website as well as a “know your rights video” the campaign is set to release this month. “But this is the job of the government, and this is a program that they need to fully implement and educate people about.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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Unemployment drops in May to 13.3 percent as states reopen

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The rate reflects parts of the economy reopening in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The unemployment rate dropped to 13.3 percent in May, amid a push for a reopening economic rally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

The economy gained 2.2 million jobs last month, as states started relaxing stay-at-home orders and opening for business.

President Donald Trump, who has been prodding governors to reopen state economies, took credit for the reversal.

“Really Big Jobs Report.” Trump tweeted in reaction to the numbers. “Great going President Trump (kidding but true)!” He also announced a Friday morning press conference at the White House to discuss the report.

The unexpected jump follows a historic 14.7 percent unemployment rate in April, the highest recorded since the economic downturn of the 1930s.

Economists were bracing for an unemployment rate close to 20 percent in the May report, aligning with weekly applications for unemployment insurance climbing above 40 million in recent weeks.

The payroll company ADP reported a 2.8 million drop in May of nonfarm private payrolls earlier this week.

“The biggest payroll surprise in history, by a gigantic margin, likely is due to a wave of hidden rehiring,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics wrote in reaction to the number.

“Businesses which let people go in large numbers in March didn’t need to post their intention to bring people back on Indeed;” he said, “they just needed to call/text/email.”

The unexpected number likely understates the extent of the economic pain felt last month. Economists warned large numbers of people have been classifying themselves as employed but absent from work in the survey, which can artificially suppress the unemployment rate.

The figure also reflects the situation in the middle of May, which is when the agency surveys Americans to get a snapshot of the workforce.

While the unemployment rate for adult women, adult men, white workers, Hispanic workers dropped from April to May, it rose slightly for black workers to 16.8 percent.

Notably, the number of workers who say they have permanently lost their job, increased by 295,000 in May to 2.3 million.

The leisure and hospitality industry, which was battered by state stay-at-home orders and shed more than 8 million jobs in April and March, added 1.2 million jobs last month.

But even as jobs gains were seen elsewhere, employment in government continued to decline, shedding 585,000 jobs in May for a total loss of 1.5 million jobs in two months.

Most of those losses were in local government — a major employer for black workers, and one factor contributing to the black unemployment rate holding steady even as the overall rate declined.

The jobless rates for teenagers (29.9 percent) and Asians (15 percent) also saw little change from April to May.

Heidi Shierholz, former chief economist at the DOL, noted that while May’s job growth is a positive sign, the U.S. jobs level “remains in absolute crisis.”

“In May, we added 2.5 million jobs,” wrote Shierholz, who is now with the Economic Policy Institute. “But in March and April, we lost 22 million, so we are still down 19.6 million jobs.”

The damage to the economy is forecast to be long lasting. The nonpartisan CBO estimates that unemployment won’t even near pre-pandemic levels — which was at 3.5 percent in February — by the end of next year.

The May jobs report lands amid a debate in Washington over whether to extend the unemployment benefit program created to help jobless Americans weather the pandemic.

With more than 40 million unemployment claims filed throughout the pandemic, Republicans argue that an additional $600 weekly unemployment payment authorized in a March assistance bill will discourage Americans from getting back to work and stymie the recovery.

But, former congressional economists from both Republican and Democratic administrations warned lawmakers earlier this week that more aid may be needed.

A failure to extend the benefits will “hinder our ability to recover,” said Douglas Elmendorf, who led CBO from 2009 to 2015. He said benefits should stay in place until the national jobless rate falls back down to 6 percent.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 5, 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. Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.


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New unemployment claims rose by 1.9 million last week

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The coronavirus pandemic has forced roughly 42.6 million workers onto jobless rolls in just 11 weeks.

U.S. workers filed another 1.9 million new claims for unemployment benefits last week, the Department of Labor reported. The coronavirus pandemic has forced roughly 42.6 million workers onto jobless rolls in just 11 weeks. 

Another 623,000 people applied for benefits under the new temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program created for people who are ineligible for traditional unemployment benefits, suggesting the number of claims filed last week could be higher than 2 million. But there is likely some overlap between the claims reported for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and normal state programs.

“Even as states reopen, claims in the millions are an indicator that the economic pain of the COVID-19 crisis is still acute,” Glassdoor Senior Economist Daniel Zhao said in reaction to the claims number.

California reported the highest number of new claims in its state unemployment program, with 230,461 filed last week. Florida followed with 206,494 new claims. 

The jobless claims figure, reported each week, comes ahead of Friday’s release of the unemployment rate for May. Economists expect that figure will show nearly one in five Americans were out of work in the middle of last month.

“The forthcoming May jobs report will amount to a shocking sequel to the April horror story,” wrote Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate. “It is likely to add further economic insult to the injury already established with the jobless rate. . . Millions more are expected to fall off of payrolls.”

The report also indicates that nearly 1 million workers dropped off unemployment assistance programs in the week ending May 16 (the latest data available).

The number of new weekly unemployment insuranceclaims has been slowly declining in recent weeks as states have begun to restart their economies. A recent Chamber of Commerce survey found that business fears about the pandemic have fallen in the past two months. 

Zhao noted that the weekly unemployment insurance claims may soon “understate the health of the labor market” as claims “remain elevated but hiring picks up.”

However, employers are struggling to navigate evolving rules and recommendations from the federal government around safely reopening and testing their employees for the coronavirus.

Businesses also complain that several of the aid programs created under the massive coronavirus relief package passed in March are too complicated and don’t provide enough relief to keep the economy afloat during the pandemic. 

Democrats and Republicans also have been at odds over whether to extend the enhanced unemployment benefits created under the CARES Act, the $2 trillion relief package signed into law in March. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he is opposed to extending that additional $600 weekly unemployment payment, which is slated to end on July 31.

But, Democrats’ latest $3 trillion coronavirus relief package approved by the House last month, would extend the additional payment through the end of January. 

A majority of the Americans who have filed “continued claims,” — or those who are still seeking unemployment benefits for more than one week — have likely been receiving payments, according to Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation.

Taking a look at the seven week period from April 3 to May 23, Stettner estimated that 72.7 percent of those who filed continued claims were receiving unemployment insurance payments.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 4, 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. Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.


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Another 2.1 million seek new jobless benefits. Pandemic Recession will stick it to millennials

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The Department of Labor reported Thursday that yet another2.1 million Americans, on a seasonally adjusted basis, applied for initial state benefits in the week that ended May 23.

Counting these new applications makes for a total of 40.5 million workers who have filed for initial benefits over the past 10 weeks. Add in the millions of Americans who are receiving benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance that covers gig workers, the self-employed, people who were working part time, and some other categories not eligible for regular unemployment, and the total out of work could be 47 million. Unprecedentedly gigantic as that number is, even it could be undercounting.

But if the total who have applied for benefits in both state and federal programs were comprised solely of those 47million, the official U3 unemployment rate—the one that gets the most headlines every month—would be about 30.2% based on April’s non-farm labor force of 156 million. That may seem outrageously high, but it is also the figure James Bullard, president of St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank said in March we might reach in the second quarter. (Note that the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not calculate the unemployment rate using benefit claims, but with a monthly survey. Its May report will be released next Friday.)

The labor market is clearly devastated. We just don’t know the full extent of the wreckage yet, and we won’t for another couple of months at least. Likewise, we won’t know how many of the negative effects will be temporary and how many longer lasting. 

One thing we do know. Under all economic conditions, different demographics are affected differentially. Prosperity doesn’t lift all boats, much less all boats equally. Recessions damage certain groups more than others, in great part because they have pre-existing economic conditions that make them more vulnerable—their age, their gender, their race. Deeper damage obviously lasts longer.

Vast numbers of the populace will be hurt by the Pandemic Recession. But millennials—born 1981-1996, by most definitions—are really going to get it in the wallet, with demographic groups within the millennial generation getting it worse than others, the less educated being vulnerable to far less severe economic perturbations.

Andrew Van Dam at The Washington Post wrote in detail about this Wednesday in a piece calling millennials the “unluckiest generation in U.S. history” under a subhead of Millennials have faced the worst economic odds, and many will never recover. Grimly he begins, “After accounting for the present crisis, the average millennial has experienced slower economic growth since entering the workforce than any other generation in U.S. history.” 

The research data he cited shows just how right had been those analysts who warned more than a decade ago that the graduating classes of the Great Recession would suffer long-term financial consequences from that disaster. “The average millennial has experienced slower economic growth since entering the workforce than any other generation in U.S. history.”

Gray Kimbrough, an economist with American University who we’ve previously and accurately branded a serial millennial myth debunker, points out the oldest millennials, such as himself, lived through the 9/11 terrorist attacks and entered the labor market in the recession that hit around the same time. They spent their early years struggling to find work during a jobless recovery, only to be hit by the Great Recession and another jobless recovery. And, of course, yet another recession.

“The story here is not just that it’s a bad recession, and that it’s hitting young people more, but that it’s hitting people who have already been hit,” Kimbrough said.

The impacts:

  • A report on ongoing research last year noted that in tracking 4.1 million people over a dozen years, it was found that millennial employment recovered over the period but millennial earnings did not. The average millennial lost about 13% of their earnings between 2005 and 2017, Gen X lost 9%, and baby boomers lost 7%. 
  • Millennials were forced by the Great Recession to choose worse jobs at the beginning of their work life, which suppressed their lifetime earnings. They also found themselves competing after a few years for entry-level jobs in their field against new graduates. Ana Kent, a policy analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, told Van Dam, “If people enter the labor force during a recession, and they get into lower-paying jobs, that carries forward for much of their lifelong working careers. That’s going to have impacts on not only their income but their wealth and also their ability to save for a down payment and their ability to meet other lifetime goals.”
  • Millennials had lesser financial cushions when the Great Recession struck, and since they haven’t as a group recovered their full earnings, they have even smaller cushions now in the Pandemic Recession.
  • Millennials with a college degree aren’t too far behind in terms of wealth compared with previous generations when they were the same age. Their less-educated peers, however, have half the wealth that would be expected at this stage.
  • A National Bureau of Economic Research found that even after controlling for differences in age, education, marital states, and income, the wealth gap among millennials between African Americans and white Americans continues to grow.
  • Millennial Latinos, African Americans, and women are more likely than white male millennials to be economically pinched. They also are so far more likely to be unemployed during the Pandemic Recession. 

When considering statistics based on a defining characteristic like age, it’s easy to forget that a group’s overall trajectory is not the trajectory of all individuals within it. Some portion of millennials will no doubt make out just fine. It should also be obvious given our experience with the Great Recession that it’s only a small portion of the population in every age demographic that escapes the negative impacts in a downturn. Based on what we’ve seen in the past two and a half months, there is no reason to believe the Pandemic Recession will be any different in that regard.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on May 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Timothy Lange is a member of the Daily Kos staff.


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2.1 million new unemployment claims filed last week, as workers still struggle to get benefits

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The ten-week total for claims reached 40.8 million, suggesting about a quarter of the workforce has lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Workers filed 2.1 million new unemployment claims last week, the Department of Labor reported, suggesting about a quarter of the workforce is seeking jobless aid to weather the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus. 

The latest figure indicates that the pandemic has pushed 40.8 million Americans out of work in just 10 weeks.

DOL also reported that another 1.2 million people applied for benefits under the new temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance programcreated for individuals who are typically ineligible for unemployment insurance, such as self-employed workers.

With those people added, the number of claims filed last week could be as high as 3.1 million, though there could be some overlap between the new program and traditional unemployment benefits.

“The pace of flooding has declined, but the labor market is still underwater,” Nick Bunker, Indeed Hiring Lab’s director of economic research, said in reaction to the numbers. He said the raw unadjusted number of new claims reported last week is still 15 times higher than pre-coronavirus levels.

California saw the highest number of new claims last week, reporting an estimated 212,343 new applications filed. New York followed with an estimated 192,193 new claims. 

Roughly half of those who applied for benefits since the beginning of the pandemic are now receiving them, according to Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation. But legal advocates and worker groups complain that workers in many states are still facing long waits, glitches and little assistance in accessing the aid from state agencies, leading applicants in some cases, to give up. 

Three Uber and Lyft drivers, along with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, filed a federal complaint this week against the state of New York, alleging the length of time it’s taking the state to process their claims compared to other workers has been “devastating.”

Behnaz Mansouri, an attorney at the Unemployment Law Project in Washington state, said roughly 60,000 people who’ve filed claims there are still waiting to receive benefits. She said self-employed workers are facing the greatest hurdles in getting jobless aid from the new federal program.

“They’re not only getting requests for more information they’re getting conflicting requests” for employment information, Mansouri said. “And these claimants don’t know what to do.” 

In Florida, where the state inspector general has launched a probe into its error-ridden unemployment assistance system, the state says about 83 percentof the 1.9 million claims its verified have been processed, an improvement from the less than 6 percent it reported mid-April

But Laurie Yadoff, an attorney at Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida, said her clients complain their applications are still “pending” and are still unable to get through to state unemployment offices for assistance. 

“It’s been a tremendous struggle and a couple of my clients I have to keep calling them and telling them to hang in there,” Yadoff said. “They just keep saying, ‘What’s the point?’”

And not every state has implemented the new unemployment programs provided under the massive coronavirus relief package signed into law in March. 

According to DOL, so far, only 32 states have begun paying out the 13-week extension of unemployment benefits included in the CARES Act. Most states provide an average of 26 weeks of jobless benefits. 

While the number of Americans seeking jobless benefits has slowly declined over the past several weeks, economists forecast that the share of the workforce out of a job will remain high throughout the summer. 

“Although initial claims are declining, the pace may only be plateauing,” Glassdoor Senior Economist Daniel Zhao said in a statement. “If UI claims remain in the millions for the next few weeks, it may signal that relaxed state-mandated restrictions alone aren’t enough to staunch the flow of unemployed Americans.”

Kevin Hassett, senior economic adviser to President Donald Trump predicted the unemployment rate could potentially shoot north of 20 percent in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May jobs report out June 5. He expects the jobless rate will continue to climb in June, “but then after that it should start to trend down,” he told CNN on Sunday.

Despite warnings from economists that unemployment could remain high into the end of next year, Republicans in Congress have made clear that they won’t support expanding the enhanced unemployment insurance benefits provided under one of the coronavirus rescue bills.

Democrats want to extend that weekly $600 boost to unemployment insurance payments through the end of January. It is currently due to expire at the end of July.

Instead, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Tuesday the Trump administration “may well” support including a bonus to get workers back on the job in the next coronavirus aid package. He argues the enhanced unemployment payments are so high that they act as a “major disincentive to go back to work.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on May 28, 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. Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.


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Trump’s New Labor Pick Eugene Scalia Will Be a Catastrophe For Workers Rights

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Image result for heidi shierholzWorking women and men need and deserve a Secretary of Laborsomebody who will look out for their interests, protect them from unscrupulous employers, set strong health and safety standards, and

safeguard their retirement security. Unfortunately, corporate lawyer Eugene Scalia, the man named by Image result for Lynn RhinehartPresident Trump to be the next Secretary of Labor, is not that person.

Scalia, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, is a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he specializes in labor and employment law and administrative law. He Image result for Celine McNicholasis an active participant in the activities of the Federalist Society—a right-wing legal group. Scalia was nominated in 2001 by President George W. Bush to be Solicitor of Labor, but his nomination was blocked because of opposition over his extreme views against worker health and safety protections. Bush circumvented the Senate and installed Scalia as Solicitor through a recess appointment. Scalia returned to his law firm at the beginning of 2003.

Scalia has built his career representing corporations, financial institutions, and other business organizations—and fighting worker protections like health and safety regulations, retirement security, and collective bargaining rights. Scalia’s reputation as the go-to lawyer for corporations wanting to avoid worker and consumer protections is so notorious that a headline in a Bloomberg Businessweek profile on Scalia read, “Suing the Government? Call Scalia.” Here are just a few examples of cases where Scalia, on behalf of corporations and trade associations, has attacked worker and consumer protections:

Worker Health and Safety

Scalia led the fight on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against regulations to protect workers from injuries caused by unsafe workplace design—known as ergonomics rules. According to Labor Department experts, the rules would have prevented 600,000 injuries a year. Scalia ridiculed the extensive science underlying the rules as “junk science par excellence” and “quackery,” and suggested that unions supported the rules as a ploy to increase membership. The rules were adopted by the Labor Department in 2000 but were overturned by a Republican Congress after Bush was elected president in 2000.

Fighting ergonomic protections is where Scalia made his mark, but his attacks on worker health and safety protections did not stop there. On behalf of United Parcel Service (UPS), Scalia opposed rules that would have required employers, and not individual workers, to pay for protective equipment that was needed to keep them safe on the job. And he represented SeaWorld when it unsuccessfully tried to fight off an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citation and fine for failing to protect Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at SeaWorld who was killed on the job by a killer whale.

Retirement Security

Eugene Scalia led the legal work attacking the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, which safeguarded workers’ retirement security by ensuring that investment advisers are acting in the best interest of workers and do not have a conflict of interest. The rule would have outlawed common practices such as financial advisers steering retirement savers toward investments that provide a good commission, but a lower rate of return. The Department of Labor estimated that conflicted investment advice costs workers $17 billion a year. Scalia attacked the rules on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, and persuaded a federal court to throw them out, leaving workers vulnerable once again to conflicted advice on their retirement investments.

Health Care

In 2006, the Maryland legislature passed a law requiring large corporations to spend 8 percent of payroll on either providing private health insurance or paying into the state’s Medicaid fund. The legislature adopted the law to ensure that large corporations like Walmart were paying their fair share of health care costs for their 16,000 Maryland employees, after studies in other states showed large numbers of Walmart workers on publicly funded health care because of the low wages paid by Walmart. On behalf of Walmart and other business interests, Scalia got the law struck down.

Collective Bargaining Rights

Scalia represented the Boeing Corporation when it was charged by the National Labor Relations Board with illegally transferring work to South Carolina from its unionized plant outside Seattle, Washington in retaliation for workers at the Washington plant exercising their rights under federal labor law, and specifically their right to strike. Boeing and Republicans in Congress embarked on a scorched-earth campaign against the NLRB complaint, holding an oversight hearing in South Carolina and subpoenaing the NLRB’s Acting General Counsel to appear, and introducing legislation to overturn the NLRB complaint even though it had not yet been adjudicated. Boeing eventually settled the complaint in connection with collective bargaining negotiations with the Machinists Union.

Consumer Protections

On behalf of financial institutions and corporations, Scalia has attacked numerous pieces of the Dodd-Frank Act, that was enacted to protect consumers against Wall Street’s power. Scalia challenged the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “proxy access” rule that would have given large shareholders a chance to put alternative candidates forward for a corporation’s board of directors through the corporation’s proxy voting materials. On behalf of business groups, Scalia succeeded in getting the rule overturned, thus denying unions and other institutional shareholders access to the proxy system to inform shareholders about candidates.

Workers with Disabilities

Workers at United Parcel Service who were returning to work following medical leave for on-the-job injuries sued UPS, alleging that the company had illegally failed to provide reasonable accommodations for their disabilities. Workers successfully won certification of a national class of similarly situated workers to pursue their claims, but Scalia, on behalf of UPS, got the class certification reversed on appeal.

Wage Security

Dealers in a Las Vegas casino sued their employer after the employer instituted a new rule requiring the dealers to share their tips with their supervisors. Scalia got the lawsuit thrown out, arguing that the dealers did not have a right to sue for their wages—that their only remedy was through the state commissioner of labor.

Defending Corporations Against Sexual Harassment Charges

Scalia represented the giant bank HSBC when it was sued for retaliating against an employee who reported sexual harassment of some of his co-workers by a manager. According to published reports, Scalia’s questioning of one of the sexual harassment victims was so aggressive that it brought the victim to tears.

Working people do not need a deregulatory wrecking ball as Secretary of Labor. They need somebody who will stand up for strong worker protection rules and aggressive enforcement of them. Unfortunately, the Trump administration seems determined to push through its deregulatory agenda, tearing down worker and consumer protections at the behest of large corporations. Former Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta reportedly lost favor with the Trump White House because he moved too slowly on reversing worker protections issued during the Obama Administration. Given his history of attacking worker and consumer protections at the behest of big business, there is plenty of reason to worry that Eugene Scalia will drive the deregulatory train, to the detriment of working women and men.

Scalia will have a confirmation hearing when the Senate returns in September. It is essential that Senators press Scalia for his views on the role of government regulation—and the role of the Department of Labor—in protecting working women and men. Senators should ask him to identify worker protections that he would promote, and whether there are cases he has been involved in on behalf of working people, not corporations. Senators should discourage Scalia from further weakening worker protections adopted during the Obama administration. These rules were adopted after extensive public input and are supported by comprehensive evidence demonstrating their value and importance to working people. They should not be weakened or overturned simply because anti-regulatory ideologues want it.

At the end of the day, Scalia’s answers to these questions are unlikely to persuade skeptics that he is the right man for the job, because words at a hearing cannot overcome a long career of attacking worker protections on behalf of corporations. But Scalia should be required to state on the record what his intentions are as Secretary of Labor and what he plans to do to protect working people, and, if confirmed, he must be held accountable.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Heidi Shierholz is Senior Economist and Director of Policy at the Economic Policy Institute. From 2014 to 2017, she served the Obama administration as chief economist at the Department of
Labor.

About the Author: Lynn Rhinehart was General Counsel of the AFL-CIO from 2009 until her retirement in 2018.

Ms. Rhinehart joined the legal staff at the AFL-CIO as an Associate General Counsel in 1996.  She graduated magna cum laude from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1994.  Following graduation, she clerked for two years for the Honorable Joyce Hens Green of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  Ms. Rhinehart is a member of the District of Columbia bar.  From 1987-1990, Ms. Rhinehart worked as a professional staff member for the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, chaired by Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH).  Ms. Rhinehart is the Executive Director of the Lawyers Coordinating Committee (LCC), a national organization of 2,000 union-side labor lawyers in law firms and legal departments.  She serves on the Board of Directors of the Peggy Browning Fund and the National Employment Law Project.

About the Author: Celine McNicholas is EPI’s director of government affairs and labor counsel. An attorney, her current areas of work include a wide range of workers’ rights issues, including labor and employment law, collective bargaining, and union organizing. She was a core member of EPI’s Perkins Project on Worker Rights and Wages Policy Watch, an online resource that tracked federal actions affecting working people and the economy during the first year of the Trump administration. McNicholas continues to monitor and analyze the Trump administration’s labor and employment policies.


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Trump’s acting Labor secretary pick feared by unions

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Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)Patrick Pizzella, tapped by President Donald Trump on Friday to step in as acting Labor secretary, is a polarizing figure beloved by conservatives for his pro-business views and disliked by unions and Democrats for a history of opposing worker protections.

Pizzella, who has served as deputy secretary of Labor since April 2018, will take over following Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s resignation amid controversy over a plea deal that he brokered for wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein as a prosecutor in Florida. Pizzella comes “highly recommended by Alex,” Trump told reporters Friday.

But Pizzella’s ascendance to the top of the agency tasked with enforcing labor protections is something unions have long feared. He worked alongside disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to shield the Northern Mariana Islands from federal labor laws in the 1990s, and generally has favored easing workplace regulations.

“If the president is serious about helping working people, selecting Patrick Pizzella wouldn’t be the way to demonstrate that,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. “My dealings with Patrick have been limited, but his dubious track record, including his association with Jack Abramoff, doesn’t bode well.”

Some Democrats on Friday urged Trump to put someone else in charge of the Labor Department. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said in a written statement that Pizzella‘s “checkered past on these issues — including lobbying with convicted felon Jack Abramoff on behalf of sweatshops and pushing anti-worker policies as a member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority — make him unfit to lead the Department of Labor.”

This article was originally published by Politico on July 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.


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Alexander Acosta stepping down as Labor secretary

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Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)Eliana JohnsonAnita Kumar

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is stepping down from his post, just two days after he held a news conference to defend a plea deal that he brokered for wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while serving as a U.S. attorney in Florida more than a decade ago.

President Donald Trump alerted reporters this morning of Acosta’s departure. “This was him, not me,” said Trump as Acosta stood beside him.

Trump, who saw Acosta largely as a source of favorable monthly statistics about unemployment and job growth, called Acosta “a great labor secretary not a good one” and “a tremendous talent. He’s a Hispanic man, he went to Harvard, a great student.” Trump indicated that he was satisfied with Acosta’s explanation for the plea deal in Wednesday’s news conference, saying, “He explained it.”

But Acosta has had a rocky relationship in recent months with other White House officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, over the perceived slow pace of deregulation at the department. And one person familiar with the situation said that although Trump initially thought Acosta handled the Epstein controversy well, over the last couple of days the president saw the negative press and didn’t like it.

“POTUS is not a fan of bad press, especially when other people make him look bad,” this person said.

Acosta, a 50-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer, came newly under fire for the lenient 2008 plea deal after Epstein was re-arrested July 6 in New York City and charged with sex trafficking. Under the earlier plea agreement, Epstein served only 13 months of an 18-month term and was permitted daily furloughs to go to the office. Epstein also was required to register as a sex offender and to pay restitution to his underage victims.

At the White House this morning, Acosta told reporters: “Over the last week I’ve seen a lot of coverage of the department of labor. And what I have not seen is the incredible job creation that we’ve seen in this economy. more than 5 million jobs, I haven’t seen that…. I do not think it is right and fair for this administration’s labor department to have Epstein as the focus, rather than the incredible economy that we have today.”

It’s an ignominious end for a son of middle-class Cuban immigrants who climbed his way up and made a name for himself in conservative social circles. Acosta led his resignation letter with mention of his parents and their desire to secure “the best opportunities for their son and grandchildren.”

“He’s been careful for his whole life, going to the right schools and connecting to the right people,” said a former administration official. “And now he’s just going to be remembered for Jeffrey Epstein.”

Things began to unravel for Acosta in November, when the Miami Herald published a lengthy reexamination of the case, and accelerated in February, when a district court judge ruled that the 2008 plea deal violated the Crime Victims Rights Act because Acosta never revealed the terms of the deal to Epstein’s victims before it was finalized. Also in February, the Justice Department opened an investigation into whether Acosta’s prosecution team committed professional misconduct in its handling the Epstein case.

Key details of Acosta’s plea agreement with Epstein were known to senators at the time Acosta was confirmed as labor secretary, though initially these seemed minor compared to domestic abuse allegations against Trump’s first pick for labor secretary, Andy Puzder. Acosta defended his actions at a congressional hearing this past April, saying he entered the case only after a state grand jury recommended that only one charge be filed against Epstein — a course of action that would have resulted in no jail time for Epstein, no restitution to victims, and no registration as a sex offender.

“At the end of the day Mr. Epstein went to jail,” Acosta said. “Mr. Epstein was incarcerated, he registered as a sex offender, the world was put on notice that he was a sex offender, and the victims received restitution.“

Acosta has suggested that he and his attorneys were worn down by Epstein’s all-star legal team, which included Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the 1990s. Among other tactics, the Epstein lawyers investigated the prosecutors looking for “personal pecadillos,” Acosta wrote in 2011 to journalist Conchita Sarnoff, whose 2016 book “TrafficKing” chronicled the Epstein prosecution. Acosta called these efforts “a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors.”

Acosta has also said that the full extent of Epstein’s alleged abuse wasn’t known at the time he struck the plea deal.

“Had these additional statements and evidence been known,” he wrote in a letter Sarnoff, “the outcome may have been different.”

Epstein aside, Acosta‘s relationships in the White House wore thin in recent months. Known for his careful demeanor, Acosta was privately accused by White House officials of slow-walking deregulatory efforts, such as business-friendly policies on overtime pay and shielding franchised companies from legal liabilities.

It took two years for DOL to issue a regulation outlining a program for privately led apprenticeships, a delay that irked the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. A former DOL official told POLITICO in June that she was “fed up” with Acosta.

Mulvaney curtailed Acosta’s rule-making authority shortly after taking office in January, requiring three White House aides to sit in on all the agency’s regulatory meetings. Then in May, the White House took the unusual step of ordering Acosta to fire his chief of staff, Nick Geale, after an internal review concluded that Geale’s interactions with employees — including frequent profanity-laced tirades — were damaging morale inside the agency.

Even as White House aides abandoned Acosta, the president himself remained content, in large part because of the favorable monthly employment statistics typically reported by DOL. Acosta went out of his way to praise the strength of the economy on social media, often mentioning the president by name.

“I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta,“ Trump said July 9. “I’ve known him as somebody that works so hard and does such a good job. I feel very badly about that whole situation.”

This article was originally published by Politico on July 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.

He is a native of the mitten state and graduated from Michigan State University, where he ditched most of his classes to work on The State News, the student newspaper. He’s a big fan of mountains, for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

About the Author: Eliana Johnson is a White House correspondent at POLITICO. She previously served as Washington editor of National Review, where she led the organization’s 2016 election coverage. She has worked as a producer at the Fox News Channel, as a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, and as a staff reporter for the New York Sun, where she covered higher education. She graduated from Yale College in 2006 with a degree in History.

About the Author: Anita Kumar serves as White House correspondent and associate editor, covering President Donald Trump and helping organize and guide coverage for POLITICO’s White House team.

Kumar joined POLITICO in 2019 after covering the White House for McClatchy’s chain of newspapers for six years. She reported on Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2016 and Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.

Prior to that, she worked at the Washington Post, writing about Virginia politics, and the Tampa Bay Times, writing about local, state and federal government both in Florida and Washington. She started her career at the News & Advance in Lynchburg, Va. and worked briefly at the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C.

A native Virginian, Kumar grew up in Charlottesville and attended the University of Virginia.

Kumar was elected to the White House Correspondents’ Association board in July 2018 for a three-year term. She appears regularly on television and radio.


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