Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

The Impact of Job Loss in Immigrant Communities During COVID-19

Share this post

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark demonstration of the racist and xenophobic attitudes maintained at an institutional level. Job loss and rates of infection have disproportionately affected immigrant groups in the U.S. and other nations around the world. 

With these marginalized groups often being locked out of the aid resources meant to mitigate the damage of COVID-19, job loss has a powerful impact on immigrant communities. But the damage doesn’t stop there. With approximately 48% of agricultural workers in the U.S. lacking citizenship, trouble for immigrant communities means trouble for everyone.

Understanding the totality of this impact requires a look into the data and an analysis of available resources.

Impact of COVID-19 on Immigrant Communities

According to several studies, the effects of COVID-19 seem to be disproportionately impacting communities of ethnic minorities and immigrants. In many cases, these effects ripple through the population and are felt in everything from disruption in supply chains to agricultural slowdowns.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ran a study on the full impacts of the COVID pandemic on migrant families. These are some of the key findings:

  • COVID infection rates are twice as high in migrant communities versus native-born populations.
  • Discrimination has been found to increase during slack labor markets.
  • Immigrants are more highly represented in the sectors of the economy hit hardest by the pandemic.
  • Immigrant children are less likely to have a computer and internet access at home, meaning school closures can disproportionately set these children back in comparison to their peers.

These findings demonstrate the spiral of negative effects of a pandemic on immigrant populations, who are bearing the brunt of the crisis in unemployment numbers as well. Despite having lower unemployment rates than native-born workers before the pandemic, immigrants lost jobs in larger numbers.

Immigrant unemployment reached 16.5% versus the 14% for natives when the shutdowns began.

With more jobs lost in the sectors in which immigrants make up a larger percentage of the workforce, the scale was tipped against these workers. Tipped minimum wage workers, when they weren’t laid off, had tip decreases that were sharper among minority servers. This further increased the equity gap that has long plagued nations across the world and left some of the most vulnerable financial sectors of the population in the most precarious positions.

Since many immigrants often have no earned credit score—coming from nations or backgrounds where one wasn’t needed—even using an emergency credit card became difficult. In turn, computers could not be purchased for out-of-school children. These are disadvantages that can have severe impacts on populations for generations to come, worsening inequality rates that already fall too often under racial lines.

With the risks of COVID-19 more real for immigrant communities in almost every sense, it is important to establish the full extent of the problem. At the same time, underserved immigrant communities should have the resources and help they need to better survive these systemic problems. 

Finding Help and Relief

Whether you’re an immigrant yourself or simply someone empathetic to the problems faced by these communities, whole databases of resources are out there to assist and support the cause. From education to safety, support resources for immigrants and refugees can at the very least connect people to knowledgeable individuals.

Here are some more places you can look for all kinds of help in the COVID era:

  • iAmerica: Information for immigrants on everything from stimulus payments to healthcare tips.
  • ILCTR: Resources for immigrants, parents, and educators during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • United We DreamMental health resources, ways to take action, and more for the immigrant community. 

The impact of job loss in immigrant communities could have far-reaching, long-lasting effects experienced for generations. Recognizing this problem and utilizing helpful resources are the first steps towards better solutions and a more equitable future.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but business and technology topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.


Share this post

Democrats call for UI system fix as millions face another lapse in benefits

Share this post

Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Senate Democrat overseeing unemployment issues, is calling on Congress to give the Labor Department $500 million to shore up the bewildered state unemployment system.

Hobbled by antiquated computer systems, state agencies responsible for paying out unemployment benefits have struggled to administer new emergency aid programs created for the millions of people pushed out of work during the pandemic, leaving many jobless people without much-needed aid for weeks.

And if lawmakers are unable to move quickly on their latest pandemic rescue package, the issue could mean that as many as 11.4 million workers could face yet another lapse in benefits when expanded unemployment programs expire again next month.

A bill released Wednesday by Wyden and Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Mark Warner (Va.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) is aimed at fixing those systemic issues, calling on the DOL to develop a uniform system for jobless benefits that states can use to remedy their systems.

“While enhanced jobless benefits have enabled millions and millions of families to pay the rent and buy groceries, state after state has been unable to get benefits out the door in a timely manner,” Wyden said in a statement. “My bill requires a complete overhaul of unemployment insurance technology, and paves the way for one website to apply for jobless benefits, not 53.”

But some state officials point the finger at Washington for not giving them adequate time to prevent a lapse in benefits, arguing that lawmakers have taken too long to approve extensions in the programs, resulting in delayed guidance on how to administer the changes.

As part of his $1.9 trillion economic rescue package, President Joe Biden has called on Congress to extend several federally funded CARES Act jobless benefit programs through September 2021. But, the legislation Democrats have proposed would only extend them through Aug. 29, 2021.

A Senate Finance committee staffer told POLITICO that Wyden is “certainly looking” at whether the proposals could fit into the relief package. But the measure would have to comply with the strict budget rules that accompany the fast-track process known as reconciliation that Democrats are using to pass the next Covid-19 aid package with a simple majority in the Senate.

Even if it is passed quickly under budget reconciliation, the bill won’t have an immediate effect, as it lays out a two-year timeline for implementation.

Currently, while DOL oversees the unemployment system rules and funds the administrative costs, it’s up to 53 individual state and territorial unemployment agencies to actually process unemployment claims and get the benefits into the pockets of those who qualify.

But their archaic systems have struggled under the fast pace of job losses caused by pandemic-related shutdowns throughout the past year and a wave of fraud targeting the beefed up unemployment benefits Congress provided under one of the pandemic aid packages.

As a result, any changes to jobless benefit programs have taken weeks for states to implement.

Some workers who used up all 39 weeks of their unemployment benefits offered under federal programs last year still haven’t been able to tap into the extra 11 weeks of benefit provided under the extension of unemployment aid enacted by Congress in December.

In California, six percent of unemployment claimants — 185,000 people — won’t have access to those benefits until March 7, according to California’s Employment Development Department.

“What’s the roadblock here?” California Assemblymember Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) said in reaction to news of the delay last week. “The roadblock to getting money to massive amounts of people who need it and need it desperately is the same old problem. Dinosaur technology.”

But in New Jersey, state officials blamed Congress for not giving states enough time to stand up the latest round of benefits. New Jersey prioritized getting the $300 benefit out the door first, as it would help all people who were receiving unemployment. But about 75,000 workers whose unemployment benefits had expired were left in limbo as programmers worked to feverishly update the 11-week benefits extension into their system.

The issue was ultimately resolved on Saturday, but New Jersey’s labor commissioner said in a press conference last week that Congress waiting caused “significant pain” for these 75,000 workers, who represented about 5 percent of the state’s claimants.

“The frustrations our workers are feeling are taking place all over the nation right now, as a result of last minute federal action,” Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said, before the programming problem was resolved. “If [Congress] had acted just weeks before the expiration date they knew was looming for months, states would have had the time needed to keep benefits for some from lapsing at all.”

New Jersey’s technology system is in desperate need of upgrades. But other states that have spent large sums of money modernizing their systems are having the “exact same challenges with this subset of claimants,” Asaro-Angelo said.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on February 10, 2021. 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.


Share this post

The U.S. Economy Excels at One Thing: Producing Massive Inequality

Share this post

To grasp the sheer magnitude of U.S. economic inequality in recent years, consider its two major stock market indices: the Standard and Poor (S&P) 500 and Nasdaq. Over the last 10 years, the values of shares listed on them grew spectacularly. The S&P 500 went from roughly 1,300 points to over 3,800 points, almost tripling. The Nasdaq index over the same period went from 2,800 points to 13,000 points, more than quadrupling. Times were good for the 10 percent of Americans who own 80 percent of stocks and bonds. In contrast, the real median weekly wage rose barely over 10 percent across the same 10-year period. The real federal minimum wage fell as inflation diminished its nominal $7.25 per hour, officially fixed and kept at that rate since 2009.

All the other relevant metrics likewise show that economic inequality in the United States kept worsening across the last half-century. This happened despite “concerns” about inequality expressed publicly across the years by many establishment politicians (including some in the new Biden administration), journalists, and academics. Inequality worsened through the capitalist downturns after 1970 and likewise through the three capitalist crashes of this century (2000, 2008, and 2020). Nor did the deadly pandemic provoke soul-searching or policies adequate to stop, let alone reverse, the ongoing redistribution of income and wealth upward.

No advanced economics is required to grasp that divisions, bitterness, resentment, and anger flow from such a persistently widening gap between haves and have-nots. Among millions who search for explanations, many become prey for those mobilizing against scapegoats. White supremacists blame Black and Brown people. Nativists (calling themselves “patriots” or “nationalists”) point to immigrants and foreign trade partners. Fundamentalists blame those less zealous and especially the non-religious. Fascists try to combine those movements with economically threatened small-business owners, jobless workers, and alienated social outcasts to form a powerful political coalition. The fascists made good use of Trump to assist their efforts.

U.S. history adds a special sharpness to the search for explanations. The dominant argument for capitalism in the 20th century after the 1930s Great Depression was that it “produced a great middle class.” Real U.S. wages had risen even during the Depression. They were generally higher than elsewhere across the globe, and especially in comparison with those in the USSR. High wages showed the superiority of U.S. capitalism according to the system’s apologists in politics, journalism, and academia. Demolition of that middle class at the end of the 20th and into the new century pained especially those who had bought the apologies.

And indeed, the Great Depression and its aftermath had lessened inequality significantly, enabling such a defense of capitalism to have some semblance of validity. However, for that defense to be persuasive required two key facts to be forgotten or hidden. The first is that the U.S. working class fought harder for major economic gains in the 1930s than at any other time in U.S. history. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) then organized millions into labor unions utilizing militants from two socialist parties and a communist party. Those parties were then achieving their largest-ever numerical strengths and social influences. That is how and why together the unions and the parties won the establishment of Social Security, federal unemployment compensation, a minimum wage, and a huge federal jobs program: all firsts in U.S. history. The second fact is that capitalists in the 1930s and afterward fought harder than ever against each and every working-class advance. The “middle-class” status achieved by a large portion of the working class (by no means all and especially not minorities) happened despite not because of capitalism and capitalists. But it was certainly clever propaganda for capitalism to claim credit for working-class gains that capitalists tried but failed to block.

The reduction of U.S. economic inequality accomplished then proved temporary. It was undone after 1945. Particularly after 1970, capitalism’s normal trajectory of deepening economic inequality resumed through to the present moment. Simply put, capitalism’s basic structure of production—how it organizes its enterprises—positioned capitalists to reverse the New Deal’s reduction of economic inequality. Much of the temporary U.S. middle class is now gone; the rest is fading fast. Over the last half-century, U.S. capitalism brought inequality to the extremes surrounding us now. No wonder a population once persuaded to support capitalism because it fostered a middle class now finds reasons to question it.

In capitalist enterprises, tiny minorities of the persons involved occupy positions of leadership, command, and control. The owner, the owner’s family, the board of directors, or the major shareholders comprise such minorities: the class of employers. Opposite them are the vast majorities: the class of employees. The employer class determines, exclusively, what the enterprise produces, what technology it uses, where production occurs, and what is done with its net revenue. The employee class must live with the consequences of employers’ decisions from which it is excluded. The employer class uses its position atop the enterprise to distribute its profits partly to enrich itself (via dividends and top executive pay packages). It uses some of its profits to buy and control politics. The goal there is to prevent universal suffrage from moving the economic system beyond capitalism and the economic inequality it reproduces.

Deepening U.S. inequality flows directly from this capitalist organization of production—its class system. Occasionally, under exceptional circumstances, rebellious social movements win reversals of that inequality. However, if such movements do not change the capitalist organization of production, capitalists will render such reversals temporary. To solve the extreme inequality of U.S. capitalism requires systemic change, an end to capitalism’s specific class structure pitting employers against employees. If production were organized instead in enterprises (factories, offices, stores) that were democratized—one worker, one vote—as worker cooperatives, economic inequality could and would be drastically reduced. Democratic decisions over the distribution of individual incomes across all the participants in an enterprise would far less likely give a small minority vast wealth at the expense of the vast majority. The same logic that dispensed with kings in politics applies to employers in capitalism’s enterprises.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Richard D. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His three recent books with Democracy at Work are The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or ItselfUnderstanding Marxism, and Understanding Socialism.


Share this post

Economy Loses 140,000 Jobs in December; Unemployment Remains at 6.7%

Share this post

The U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs in December, and the unemployment rate remained at 6.7%, according to figures released Friday morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The losses reflect an increase in cases related to the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to respond to the pandemic.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler (IBEW) pointed out the important takeaway from the new numbers:

In response to the December job numbers, AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs tweeted:

Last month’s biggest job losses were in leisure and hospitality (-498,000), private education (-63,000), government (-45,000) and other services (-22,000). Gains were seen in professional and business services (161,000), retail trade (121,000), construction (51,000), transportation and warehousing (47,000), health care (39,000), manufacturing (38,000) and wholesale trade (25,000). Employment in other major industries, including mining, information and financial activities, showed little change in December.

In December, the unemployment rates increased for teenagers (16%) and Hispanics (9.3%). The jobless rates for Black Americans (9.9%), adult men (6.4%), adult women (6.3%), White Americans (6%) and Asian Americans (5.9%) showed little change.

The number of long-term unemployed workers (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) rose slightly in December and accounted for 37.1% of the total unemployed.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on January 11, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


Share this post

Reversing job market opens door to larger Biden stimulus

Share this post

The latest coronavirus wave slammed the U.S. economy in December, wiping out 140,000 jobs, raising pressure to accelerate vaccinations and blowing the door open for President-elect Joe Biden and a narrowly Democratic Congress to push for even more stimulus spending within weeks.

The December employment report, the last to be released during President Donald Trump’s administration, leaves the nation around 11 million short of the level of jobs from before Covid-19 crushed the economy and wiped out around 23 million jobs. Trump’s record will now include a recovered stock market but an enormous net loss of jobs.

Most of the losses in December, nearly 500,000, came in the leisure and hospitality industries as fresh lockdowns and lower travel led to widespread layoffs. The expiration of some of the first big stimulus package, passed back in March, also left consumers with less money to spend, hitting demand in the economy.

The December tumble, which left the jobless rate at 6.7 percent, suggests the distribution and adoption of coronavirus vaccines must increase rapidly in order to avoid much worse damage and allow for potential recovery in the spring and summer. 

And it will give Biden and the Democrats wider leeway to force through trillions of dollars more in stimulus spending — by whatever legislative means available — including significant help for state and local governments. It also means the Democrats will likely be able to approve enough direct cash to reach the “$2,000 check” level they’ve long supported, when including the $600 checks approved by Congress and signed by Trump last month. 

“The economy went into reverse in December and we are still 11.5 million jobs short of where we were and the biggest problem was the virus and the expiration of stimulus,” said Harvard professor Jason Furman, who served as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama. “Much more action is needed to control the virus and support the economy. And I think that will be enough to generate large improvements over the course of 2021.”

The December jobs report cements a strange legacy for Trump. The nation will have millions of jobs fewer than when he took office, partly due to a slow and halting federal response to the coronavirus. But the stock market has regained all its losses from the spring and now is hitting records once again as many companies that thrived during lockdowns soar and investors bet on a stronger 2021.

The bifurcation has led to a stark “K-shaped” recovery in which the top level of workers have largely if not completely recovered while tens of millions of Americans in lower-paying service industry jobs suffer. Economic inequality, already bad before the virus hit, is now at levels not seen since the 1920s before the Great Depression. Reversing that trend is among Biden’s top priorities. And he now has more weapons at his disposal with the narrowest of Senate majorities following Democrats‘ two special election wins in Georgia. 

Biden will have full control of Washington — though not a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate — during the first two years of his term. And his economic advisers plan a heavy focus on spending to boost vaccination distribution, support strapped state and local governments, improve American infrastructure, further expand jobless benefits and pump more direct cash into individual households. 

Economists and Wall Street analysts say some of the recent market ebullience is based on the assumption that Biden will be able to deliver on much of this even if Democrats decide against blowing up the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes in the Senate to overcome. 

But they will have multiple opportunities to use the “budget reconciliation”vehicle to pass significant spending increases with a one-vote margin in the Senate. There is also the chance that more Republicans in the Senate will come around to the need for bigger stimulus spending given the wave of new coronavirus cases and the slow nature of the vaccine rollout.

“With the elections in Georgia giving control to the Democrats, we should expect to get a fairly large and targeted fiscal aid package in the first quarter of the year which investors clearly have seized on,” said Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at consulting firm RLM. “We are going to get a targeted fiscal aid package quickly then another stimulus package and then infrastructure. And these are all huge things.” 

The state and local aid will be especially important as states are already struggling to pay billions in extended benefits approved by Congress last month, leading to several weeks of delays in payments in places like California, Michigan, Florida and Washington. Losses in state and local government jobs forced by lower Covid-era tax receipts and the need to balance budgets is also driving down the national jobs numbers. 

Failing to approve larger stimulus spending could push the economy into either a double-dip recession or a repeat of the slow, halting and unequal recovery that followed the financial crisis of 2008. The Biden team, many of whom worked in government during the Obama years, is determined to learn the lessons of the last major slowdown.

Still, even with major stimulus spending, the recovery will depend in large part on effective and widespread adoption of vaccines. And even then, it may take years to return to economic conditions before the virus hit. “I’m worried some of the scarring is extensive enough that we will be far from fully recovered at the end of 2021,” said Furman. “Today’s number expands what was already an open window for more support for the economy, but we will not be back in perfect condition until 2022 or 2023. It’s going to take a while in some places.”

Job losses in December, which ended seven months of gains following the enormous virus-induced declines, largely came in the service industry where restaurants and bars slashed 372,000 positions as cold weather and new lockdowns limited demand. Overall, employment in leisure and hospitality — which includes hotels, tourist sites and other categories, declined by 498,000. Gains in professional and business services, retail and other areas were not enough to offset the giant losses elsewhere. Government jobs declined by 45,000 amid growing budget crunches around the nation. 

There are now around 11 million unemployed and the jobless rate remained at 6.7 percent, well below its Covid-ear peak of over 14 percent but still double what it was before Covid hit. And there are still nearly 20 million Americans on some form of jobless assistance.

But Wall Street traders and many economists remain hopeful that the slide in jobs will reverse fairly early next year given prospects for vaccines and more fiscal aid. Should either of those things fail, however, the numbers could get significantly worse. 

“While we remain very upbeat on the US’ medium- to long-term prospects, we have to be braced for more bad economic data that could last well into the second half of 2021,” James Knightley, chief international economist at financial firm ING, wrote in a note to clients on Friday.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on January 8, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ben White is POLITICO Pro’s chief economic correspondent and author of the “Morning Money” column covering the nexus of finance and public policy.


Share this post

“THIS IS NOT GOOD NEGOTIATING. THIS IS A COLLAPSE”–BERNIE SANDERS

Share this post

Late last night, Congress passed a $908 billion COVID relief bill that will extend unemployment benefits through the early spring, provide support for small businesses, schools, health care, nutrition, rental assistance, childcare, broadband, and the Postal Service, as well as funding to help distribute vaccines.

This legislation also includes, importantly, a $600 direct payment for every working class American earning less than $75,000 a year or $150,000 for a couple — plus $600 for each child. Let me be clear: this provision was not in the bill just two weeks ago. And, given the enormous economic desperation that so many working families are now experiencing, it is nowhere near enough as to what is needed. But, given the strong opposition of the Republican leadership in Congress and a number of Democrats, it’s no stretch to say that it would not have happened at all without our efforts, the hard work of progressive members in the U.S. House and grassroots progressives throughout the country. Republican Senator Josh Hawley also played an important role.

But let me state the obvious. The total funding in this bill was not even close to good enough, and my fear is that by reaching this agreement we are setting a bad precedent and setting the stage for a return to austerity politics now that Joe Biden is set to take office.

Remember, way back in May, the House passed a $3.4 trillion HEROES Act, which was a very serious effort to address the enormous health and economic crises facing our country. Two months later, the House passed another version of that bill for $2.2 trillion.

That same month, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a $1.1 trillion piece of legislation that included a $1,200 direct payment for every working class American.

Months later, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, negotiating on behalf of President Donald Trump, proposed a COVID relief plan with Speaker Pelosi for $1.8 trillion that also included a $1,200 direct payment.

And yet, after months of bi-partisan negotiations by the so-called Gang of 8, we ended up with a bill of just $908 billion that includes $560 billion in unused money from the previously passed CARES Act — a worse deal than was previously proposed by Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump.

So we went from $3.4 trillion, to $2.2 trillion, to $1.8 trillion from Trump and $1.1 trillion from Mitch McConnell to just $348 billion in new money — roughly 10 percent of what Democrats thought was originally needed and half of what Trump and McConnell offered in direct payments.

This is not good negotiating. This is a collapse. [my emphasis] It is also no coincidence that as it became clear Joe Biden would become the next president of the United States, we started to hear a lot of talk from my Senate colleagues in the Republican Party about their old friend the deficit.

We couldn’t afford $1,200 for every working class American and $500 for their children because of the deficit.

We couldn’t afford to support state and local governments struggling during the middle of this health and economic crisis because of the deficit.

We couldn’t afford more meaningful and robust unemployment benefits for those who lost their jobs during the middle of this pandemic because of the deficit.

Yet, this is the same Republican Party so concerned about the deficit that they passed a $1.9 trillion tax bill benefiting some of the richest people and largest corporations in this country.

This is the same Republican Party so concerned about the deficit that they, just last week, pushed through the largest defense spending bill in the history of this country, a total of $740 billion. This is more money than the next 10 nations combined spend in their defense budgets.

This is the same Republican Party so concerned about the deficit that they spent trillions of dollars on war over the past two decades.

This is the same Republican Party so concerned about the deficit that it gives hundreds of billions of dollars in giveaways to oil, gas and coal companies that exacerbate the climate crisis.

This is the same Republican Party so concerned about the deficit that it provides huge amounts of corporate welfare to companies like Walmart that pay their workers starvation wages and provide them meager benefits that must be supplemented by taxpayer-supported programs.

And during any of these debates, do you recall any of my Republican colleagues asking how these proposals were going to be paid for? I don’t. So forgive me for thinking their sudden display of concern for the deficit seems a bit insincere. More to the point: it’s total hypocrisy!

And our concern at this moment is that no matter what happens in Georgia next month, and which party controls the Senate, we cannot allow this type of inadequate negotiation again on major legislation. Yes. The deficit is important, but it is not the most important thing. At this unprecedented moment in American history, with a growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, and when many millions of Americans are suffering, Democrats in Congress must stand up for the working families of our country. No more caving in.

Today, half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck, one out of four workers are either unemployed or making less than $20,000 a year, more than 90 million Americans are uninsured or under-insured, tens of millions of people face eviction, and hunger in America is exploding. Tragically, there is more economic desperation in our country today than at any point since the Great Depression.

We have a responsibility to the struggling families of our country.

And let’s be honest: if we allow Republicans to set the parameters of the debate going forward, like they did in this current COVID relief bill, the next two to four years are going to be a disaster.

Want to expand health care? Where’s the money going to come from?

Want to rebuild our infrastructure? Where’s the money going to come from?

Want a Green New Deal, or even support for Joe Biden’s more modest climate proposal? Where’s the money going to come from?

So the fundamental political question of our time is: are we going to allow Mitch McConnell, the Republican Party and corporate America to return us to austerity politics, or are we going to build a dynamic economy that works for everyone?

My fear is that this COVID relief bill sets a very dangerous precedent for when Joe Biden takes office next month. And we cannot allow that to happen.

Going forward, Democrats must have an aggressive agenda that speaks to the needs of the working class in this country, income and wealth inequality, health care, climate change, education, racial justice, immigration reform and so many other vitally important issues. And in that struggle, we all have a role to play. So please, make your voice heard in the weeks and months ahead. Call your members of Congress, post your thoughts on social media, encourage progressives in your community to run for office, and volunteer and contribute to those who will fight for a government that will work for all of us, and not just the 1 percent and wealthy campaign contributors in this country.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on December 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years.


Share this post

Jobless claims down 19,000, still 4 times pre-pandemic level

Share this post

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 19,000 last week to still historically high 787,000 as a resurgent coronavirus grips the U.S. economy.

While at the lowest level in four weeks, the new figures released Thursday by the Labor Department are nearly four times higher than last year at this point before the coronavirus struck. Employers continue to cut jobs as rising coronavirus infections keep many people at home and state and local governments re-impose restrictions.

Jobless claims were running around 225,000 a week before the pandemic struck with force last March, causing weekly jobless claims to surge to a high of 6.9 million in late March as efforts to contain the virus sent the economy into a deep recession.

The government said that the total number of people receiving traditional unemployment benefits fell by 103,000 to 5.2 million for the week ending Dec. 19, compared with the previous week.

The four-week average for claims which smooths out weekly variations rose last week to 836,750, an increase of 17,750 from the previous week.

Economists believe that the holidays, in addition to broad confusion over the status of a Covid-19 relief package, suppressed applications for benefits last week.

Congress finally passed a $900 billion relief bill that would boost benefit payments and extend two unemployment assistance programs tied to job losses from the pandemic. However, President Donald Trump called the measure a “disgrace” because in his view it did not provide enough in direct payments to individuals.

Trump eventually signed the measure on Sunday but sought to pressure Congress to boost the stimulus payments to individuals from the $600 in the bill to $2,000. The Democratic-controlled House quickly passed legislation to meet Trump’s demand, but the Republican-led Senate checked that momentum.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that the proposal to boost payments to $2,000 has “no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate.”

Meanwhile, the government has begun sending out the smaller payments to millions of Americans. The $600 payment is going to individuals with incomes up to $75,000.

Analysts believe the $900 billion package as it now stands will give the economy a boost, but only as long there are no major problems with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Earlier this month, Trump administration officials said they planned to have 20 million doses of the vaccine distributed by the end of the year. But according to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control, just over 11.4 million doses have been distributed and only 2.1 million people have received their first dose.

President Donald Trump deflected criticism about the pace of the vaccine program, saying that it’s “up to the States to distribute the vaccines.”

Most economists believe the U.S. economy will rebound at some point next year.

“While prospects for the economy later in 2021 are upbeat, the economy and labor market will have to navigate some difficult terrain between now and then and we expect (jobless) claims to remain elevated,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on December 31, 2020. Reprinted with permission.


Share this post

2020 in Review: Workers Struggle Under the Weight of the Pandemic

Share this post

Workers will feel the ramifications of this unprecedented year long into the future.

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed 300,000 lives, destroyed millions of jobs, busted gaping holes in public budgets, and magnified the myriad inequalities that have come to define life in the United States.

Notwithstanding a few bright spots, the labor movement struggled to find its footing in the biggest workplace health and safety crisis of our lifetimes.

The year started with 3.5 percent unemployment—the lowest in a half-century—and hopes that workers might be able to use the tight labor market to recover some of what had been lost over decades of concessions.

All that came to a crashing halt in March, though the U.S. was slow to impose dramatic shutdowns. Eventually it took a seesaw approach, alternating between periods of lockdown and opening in an attempt to keep the economy going while waiting for a vaccine.

That came at an enormous human cost. Health care workers sustained grueling shifts for months on end, witnessing the havoc this new virus wreaks on its victims while working desperately to connect patients with loved ones to say their final distanced goodbyes. Meanwhile they often had to fight for adequate protective gear.

“Most of us are going to get it and some of us are going to die,” said Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, president of the New York State Nurses, as the pandemic reached its early heights in New York City. Overall around 550,000 health care workers have contracted the virus, including 300,000 workers in nursing home, whose residents account for 40 percent of all Covid deaths. Sixteen hundred health care workers have died.

MOST UNEQUAL RECESSION

Unemployment peaked near 15 percent in April. By September a quarter of Americans would say that someone in their household had lost a job this year.

Even as unemployment dipped to 6.7 percent in November, there were still 9 million fewer workers on payrolls than a year ago, with 3.7 million having dropped out of the labor force. The real unemployment rate, which includes these workers as well as involuntary part-timers, stands at 12 percent. Among the unemployed, 3.9 million have been without a job for more than 27 weeks.

But even those figures understate the pandemic’s impact on workers. According to the Washington Post, this is “the most unequal recession in modern U.S. history, delivering a mild setback for those at or near the top and a depression-like blow for those at the bottom.”

Unemployment rates for Blacks and Latinos are 10.3 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively, compared to 5.9 percent for white workers. Retail has lost 550,000 jobs since February and leisure and hospitality 3.4 million.

While Americans got used to seeing cars lined up for miles at food banks—26 million adults reported not having enough food to eat in mid-November—those at the very top saw their fortunes grow astronomically. Since the start of lockdowns in March, 650 U.S. billionaires have tacked on an additional $1 trillion in wealth, led by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, now worth $70 billion more, and the Walton family, up a combined $48 billion.

AN UPSURGE?

Suddenly, just the act of going to work every day became a potential life-or-death question.

That spurred some workers to action. Detroit bus drivers were the first to strike, to force the city to sanitize buses and stop fare collection. Apple packers—working shoulder to shoulder in the county with the highest rate of Covid on the West Coast—walked out to demand safety and hazard pay. Workers in Amazon warehouses, grocery stores, and fast food fought for paid time off.

These were among the hundreds of actions that workers took to defend themselves, their co-workers, and their communities. But it was far from the mass strike wave that some anticipated, a reflection both of the disorienting impact of the pandemic and of how little real organization had been built up heading into it.

Meatpacking and poultry plants stayed open throughout the year, even as the workers, largely immigrants, contracted the coronavirus at alarming rates. A Tyson plant manager in Iowa set up a pool for supervisors to bet on how many workers in the plant would get the virus, according to a lawsuit; over a third caught it, and five died. Tyson’s billionaire owner, meanwhile, saw his fortune balloon by $600 million. OSHA was almost entirely AWOL as 225 meatpacking workers died of Covid. Poultry plants were even granted federal waivers to increase line speed.

None of this is to dismiss the valiant organizing in some workplaces.

In just the week before we went to print, 30 workers walked out at a George’s poultry plant in Springdale, Arkansas, to protest the end of staggered shifts (which mean fewer workers have to cram into crowded hallways) and push for wage increases. Teachers organized a sickout in Chandler, Arizona, over their district’s refusal to consider hybrid or remote schooling as cases surge. And dozens of fast food workers in Durham, North Carolina, struck after a worker at a McDonald’s tested positive and management withheld the news; they demanded better virus protections and $15 an hour.

SOCIALLY DISTANCED TACTICS

Many unions and worker centers did their best to adapt by organizing socially distanced rallies and car caravans, including some that jammed up fast food drive-thrus to back workers’ demands. A digital picket line by the New Yorker’s new union won just cause after a two-year push.

Some unions canceled meetings entirely. Others switched to Zoom and reported record attendance. Many negotiated one-year contract extensions, hoping for a better bargaining environment next year. At some big union employers, like Verizon and AT&T, strong unions won model leave policies. Others, like UPS, refused calls for hazard pay—and national union leaders did little to rock the boat.

Some workers frustrated with their union officials’ inaction voted in new ones. Complaining that the six-term incumbent hadn’t “shown his face” and was “totally absent,” members of AFSCME District Council 33 in Philadelphia backed a challenger slate—which included sanitation workers pushing for hazard pay and personal protective equipment—two to one.

No big wave of workers joined unions, though a handful did. National Nurses United had a breakthrough in North Carolina, the biggest hospital union victory in the South in 45 years. A promising collaboration between the United Electrical Workers and the Democratic Socialists of America trained hundreds of volunteers to advise workers looking for fight-back help, but has notched just a few small wins thus far.

Educators were forced to navigate constantly shifting conditions. They worried that open schools could spread the virus, and raged at a politics that placed the economy above their safety.

Some locals, like United Teachers Los Angeles, used the power they had built through years of organizing to quickly win remote schooling. But in many other districts, educators are back in buildings, or shifting back and forth between in-person and remote.

GOOD RIDDANCE

Averting a second term for Donald Trump was a major goal for many in labor.

An election that Joe Biden won by 7 million votes still managed to be a nail-biter, thanks to the archaic and undemocratic Electoral College. While the Biden campaign itself downplayed the importance of face-to-face organizing, a few unions thankfully ignored this advice. UNITE HERE sent 1,700 mostly Black and Latino canvassers—many of them laid-off hotel workers—whose work provided the critical margins in Arizona and Pennsylvania.

But the larger “blue wave” heralded by pre-election polling failed to materialize, dashing hopes for a good terrain on which to fight for labor law reform, a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, or a massive federal stimulus and jobs program. Absent changes that will actually improve voters’ lives over the next four years, the prospect looms of a swing back to a demagogic right-winger in 2024.

In an ominous development in California, Uber and other gig economy giants spent a record-breaking $200 million to buy a win on Proposition 22 so they could go on treating workers as disposable “independent contractors.”

LABOR FOR BLACK LIVES

The other major story of 2020 was the upsurge for racial justice that began with George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police. Millions took to the streets, including in small towns where demonstrations are a rarity. Many demanded to cut police funding and redirect it to social needs.

Labor played its part. Many Twin Cities unions supported the demonstrations. Bus drivers in Minneapolis and New York refused to transport arrested protesters. West Coast dockers shut down their ports twice.

Teachers in Minneapolis, Denver, Portland, Oregon, Rochester, New York, and Seattle forced their districts to cut contracts with the police. The King County labor council expelled the Seattle police union, and other labor bodies debated whether police unions belong within them.

Union leaders—often hesitant to weigh in on such issues—issued statements backing the protests. A Strike for Black Lives endorsed by eight national unions in July saw actions in 150 cities; many participants stopped work for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence to honor Floyd.

As Tim Schermerhorn and Lee Sustar wrote in these pages, “The challenge now is to bring the militancy and energy of this year’s revived Black struggle into the workplace.”

WHERE NOW?

Where does all this leave us heading into 2021? We don’t know how many jobs the vaccine will bring back. In the public sector—a major employer of Black workers—decimated state and city budgets will fuel battles over employee pensions, health care, layoffs, and collective bargaining rights.

Over the past year, tens of millions of workers have been heralded as essential and praised as heroes. But they’ve also seen that they’re expendable—that their lives do not matter as much as ensuring the smooth flow of goods and production.

“We’re up here risking our life for chicken,” said Kendaliyn Granville, a Georgia poultry worker who walked out early in the pandemic.

“All they care about is picking up the garbage. They don’t even care about our health,” said Pittsburgh sanitation worker Fitzroy Moss at a rally demanding protective gear and hazard pay.

Many of these same workers hit the streets in the dramatic protests for racial justice this summer. How will these experiences translate to a post-pandemic world, where workers may have more breathing space to organize?

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on December 21, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Dan DiMaggio is an Assistant Editor of Labor Notes.

About the Author: Saurav Sarkar is an Assistant Editor of Labor Notes. Saurav covers worker centers, immigrant workers, LGBTQ workers, the Steelworkers, the Electrical Workers (UE), and the global labor movement.


Share this post

It’s Been a Long Nightmare Before Christmas for UPS and Postal Workers

Share this post

Every year, workers at the Postal Service and UPS expect to work long hours between Thanksgiving and Christmas. “This is like our Super Bowl,” said Kimberly Karol, president of the Iowa Postal Workers (APWU). “Employees really do rally together.”

But this year has been like no other. Workers were still catching their breath from last year’s holiday peak when the pandemic struck and online ordering ratcheted up. It was like Christmas all over again—and it never stopped.

POSTAL JAM

Package volumes at the Postal Service are up 40 percent compared to this time last year, and understaffing is intensified by Covid—more than 50,000 of the 600,000 postal workers have had to take pandemic-related leave.

“They’re working from 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, with very little off time,” said Becky Livingston, St. Louis APWU president. “People are getting tapped on the shoulder saying, ‘We need you four more hours.’”

In Knoxville, Tennessee, rural letter carrier Alex Fields has worked almost every day for months, typically from 6 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m. In October he hit 33 workdays in a row. “Basically everyone comes in the morning, takes a truck of packages before they even start the mail, comes back, does the mail, then goes out with more packages,” he said.

“The plant’s so backed up that they’re sending raw unsorted mail, whole trays to carriers to manually sort and case ourselves. Everyone’s spending an hour a day just casing up mail that’s supposed to be run through a machine, because there’s no one to run the machine. That’s on top of having 400 packages to deliver on your route.”

Some processing plants are so overwhelmed that 100 or more trucks full of mail are waiting outside, snarling traffic. A driver in Cleveland told local news he had slept in his truck for two nights while waiting to unload.

Inside the plants, packages are piled on every available surface. “There’s not a lot of space to even walk through the building,” said processing clerk Courtney Jenkins, director of organization for Baltimore APWU. “There’s less space to socially distance.”

SAME JOB, LESS PAY

At UPS too, parcel volumes are hitting record highs. Unlike the Postal Service, the company is making money hand over fist.

Fundamental to the public Postal Service is its commitment to accept all mail. UPS, on the other hand, gets to choose what it can deliver profitably and skip what it can’t. At the start of December it announced it would stop picking up parcels from six major retailers including Macy’s, Gap, and L.L. Bean. (The Postal Service absorbs packages that UPS and FedEx won’t take; its share of e-commerce deliveries doubled from October to December.)

While some UPS workers are getting too many hours, others are getting too few, as the company finds ways to foist more work onto lower-paid tiers.

One of these tiers is Article 22.4 drivers, paid $6 an hour less than regular drivers. Package delivery is the better-paying Teamster job at UPS; the warehouse workers who load and sort are mostly part-timers making less than half as much.

Created in the 2018 contract, the 22.4 was originally pitched as a hybrid position that would do a bit of both—but obviously UPS gets more bang for its buck by using these workers as a cheaper way to deliver, rather than a more expensive way to sort and load.

Sure enough, “they’re doing the same job as I am,” said Corey Levesque, a delivery driver and steward in Rhode Island. As new 22.4 drivers are hired, “you have people saying, ‘How come I get paid six bucks less and do the same work?’ And you have no real answer. They were sold out in that contract.”

THEIR OWN CARS

In fact, resistance to this new tier was the biggest reason why members voted down the 2018 tentative agreement. But the Teamsters leadership, who had proposed the concession in the first place, imposed it anyway, exploiting a constitutional loophole that requires a two-thirds vote for a “no” to stick.

Now a slate led by Boston’s Sean O’Brien and Louisville’s Fred Zuckerman is running to lead the union in next year’s one-member-one-vote election, pledging to do away with both the 22.4 tier and the two-thirds rule.

Another proliferating tier is Personal Vehicle Drivers—unbenefited temps who deliver packages from their own cars. “They’ve just thrown the PVDs at everything,” Levesque said. “If a driver goes out heavy, they’ll send a PVD to them and have them take work.

“On the one hand that’s alleviated some of the overtime we normally put in on peak. On the other hand there are some people who want the overtime, and they’re taking that away.”

In some parts of the country, regular drivers are forced to work six-day weeks. In other places they’re having trouble getting even 40 hours because PVDs are delivering so much.

GAMES WITH TIERS

Inside its warehouses, UPS is playing the same games. Most inside workers are part-timers who start at $14.50 an hour, plus benefits. They’re guaranteed 3.5 hours of work each day; they get overtime after five.

To dodge that overtime, Chris Cecil said, on his shift UPS has hired dozens of full-time seasonal workers for $16 an hour with no benefits—and guaranteed them eight hours a day. “Workers are pretty pissed,” said Cecil, a steward in Greensboro, North Carolina. “A lot of our folks want these inside full-time jobs that the company refuses to create. Instead they’re giving someone off the street that job for the month of December.”

This is grueling work. “You never know what is in the trailer,” said Kristen Jefferson, who unloads trailers in Chicago. “It could be a bulk load, 53 feet of unloading furniture that could weigh 80-140 pounds.

“If you could see my co-workers walking out of the building at the end of the day. So many of them have been broken down by UPS, and UPS does not care. They just want the packages out.”

In the Postal Service too, each union has a permatemp tier for new hires. Fields has been a “rural carrier associate” for three years. Soon he hopes to graduate to a career position.

But “I’m glad I was still a sub during all this, because at least I’ve gotten paid for all this overtime,” Fields said. Instead of hourly pay, regular rural carriers get a daily salary based on a 2017 count of their routes. There has been no adjustment for the explosion in package volume since then.

“People deliver 200 packages a day and they’re only getting paid for 60-80,” Fields said. “On Black Friday they were out till 9 or 10 p.m. and got paid the same.”

HIGH TURNOVER

It’s a sign of how bad conditions are that UPS and the Postal Service both struggle to retain workers despite the country’s sky-high unemployment.

“We have single parents that don’t have childcare for 14-hour days,” APWU’s Livingston said. “Those people are feeling like they’re being forced to resign.

“We’d like to be able to give them encouragement that it’s going to change, but we don’t know when it’s going to change. We’ve been in peak season mode since March.”

“They’re going to have to really look at what they’re paying postal employees, especially at starting salary levels, because we don’t really keep people long,” Karol said. “Amazon is one of the bigger competitors.” (Read more here: “Building Its Own Delivery Network, Amazon Puts the Squeeze On Drivers.”) 

In UPS warehouses, “turnover is insane,” Cecil said. “It’s pretty rough work. They might hire 20 people and five stay.”

UNIONS CARED ABOUT COVID

What about Covid safety, as cases surge across the country? The situation is bad.

At both UPS and the Postal Service, mask enforcement is lax or absent. Social distancing and contact tracing often aren’t happening.

The Postal Service had 116 nurses nationwide and 30 vacancies last summer—cramping its capacity to do contact tracing—and the job openings weren’t even posted on its website, according to a Postal Inspector General report that also chided the employer for not doing workplace temperature checks.

One postal manager contracted Covid, but “upon his return proudly announced his refusal to name others he had been in contact with, because he wasn’t going to give them time off,” Karol said. “He considers all sick leave usage as slacking.”

At UPS, “they are still having people work in close proximity,” Jefferson said. “People are still doubled up in trailers. Many people in my hub have tested positive for Covid.”

FIGHTING UNIONS VITAL

Some of the most proactive safety measures have been union-initiated. Early in the pandemic, the Des Moines APWU set up Plexiglas barriers at post office retail counters and around the desks of expeditors in the mail plants who interact with truck drivers from all over the country. The local pushed successfully for a 45-day buffer supply of gloves, masks, and sanitizer.

In Rhode Island, Teamsters Local 251 told the company, “We can enforce social distancing for you,” Levesque said. “We had safety committee members at the guard shack making sure members were coming in close to their start times instead of hanging out.

“We tried to make sure people were socially distancing in the building. We have conference calls between union stewards and the business agent twice a week to talk about what we can do.”

The stresses of the pandemic have thrown into relief the need to build enough union power to abolish the unfair tiers and win better compensation for everyone. “What all this is putting into workers’ hearts and minds is that the boss does not care about you,” Jenkins said.

In the Teamsters, “this year has illustrated that we need new leadership,” Levesque said. President James P. Hoffa, who is retiring next year, “just flat-out does not hold places like UPS accountable,” said Columbus driver Michael Chapman.

In the Rural Carriers, “I don’t understand what union leadership even thinks they’re doing,” Fields said. “Everyone is so mad at them. Across the political spectrum, every rural carrier conversation is like, ‘Why do we even have a union?’

“It just shows the need for organizing. We have the power in this situation. We’re so short-staffed—they’re depending on us to get those packages out.” 

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on December 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alexandra Bradbury is editor and co-director of Labor Notes.


Share this post

‘We’re already too late’: Unemployment lifeline to lapse even with an aid deal

Share this post

U.S. lawmakers are struggling to hammer out another economic relief package before Congress adjourns next week. But for millions of Americans, the deadline may have already passed.

Even if Congress reaches a deal, some 12 million unemployed people could see their benefits lapse after Christmas. Worker advocates say it could take weeks for the jobless aid programs to get back online as lags in programming for outdated state systems cause delays in relief checks.

“We’re already too late,” said Michele Evermore, an unemployment insurance expert at the National Employment Law Project. From the time Congress passes an extension of unemployment aid, she said, many states wouldn’t be up and running for “three weeks or four weeks” at the fastest.

That would not only fuel the desperation of unemployed households but could also cut into consumer spending as the coronavirus resurges across the nation, jeopardizing the economic recovery just as Joe Biden’s presidential administration gets under way.

Several federal unemployment programs are set to run out the day after Christmas, cutting millions of Americans off from their financial lifelines if Congress doesn’t pass another relief package.

What’s worse for the unemployed, the nonprofits and food banks that many have been turning to have themselves been bleeding workers under the crushing demand during the pandemic.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is circulating a proposal that would extend two major programs — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation — through the spring. Both are slated to expire Dec. 31, with final payments going out Dec. 26 — which is less than a week before a federal moratorium on evictions is also set to expire.

The provisions are the only source of aid for those who have exhausted state benefits, as well as for gig workers, the self-employed and others hit hardest by the pandemic.

Anything Congress includes in the next round of aid that is even modestly different from the programs implemented earlier this year “is going to take time to reprogram,” said Elizabeth Pancotti, a policy adviser at the pro-worker Employ America. “In some states that might be a week or two; in other states, we’ve seen it [take] five, six, seven weeks.”


“Anything that’s just the slightest bit different is a nightmare to reprogram,” she added.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Employment Security agreed that any delays depend on how the congressional programs are structured, adding that new programs — and often extensions of existing ones — “take time to stand up.”

Angela Delli-Santi, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said the state anticipates “no lapse” in providing benefits to people, although she also said it hinges on what the final language is on restarting the programs.

The bipartisan congressional proposal would provide the jobless with an extra $300 a week in their benefit checks — which would require state agencies to restart a program that expired at the end of July. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program originally offered the unemployed an extra $600 a week, but Congress failed to extend it when it lapsed July 31.

Should Congress pass an extension of the programs, states would then have to wait for the U.S. Labor Department to issue guidance before sending out payments — which could be hard to turn around quickly during the holidays.

At the same time, the need for more aid is growing. About 1.3 million applications for unemployment benefits came in last week in both regular state programs and the federal PUA program, the Labor Department reported Thursday — the highest number of new claims since September.

New applications in state unemployment programs alone saw a more than a 30 percent jump in the week following the Thanksgiving holiday.

Without the cash, many unemployed will have no choice but to turn to food banks and other nonprofits. Miles-long lines of people have been overwhelming food banks, with demand rising by about 60 percent from last year, according to the nonprofit Feeding America.


Yet since the outset of the pandemic, nonprofits have shed nearly 1 million of their own workers: Not only has that created a greater need for services, but it has also driven up costs due to the need to purchase protective gear and execute other measures to keep volunteers safe.

“We’re already seeing nonprofits closing their doors — and we’re the backup for people,” said Rick Cohen, chief communications officer for the National Council of Nonprofits. “We are where they go when the government programs run out or when they’re not enough. And if we’re not there. Where do people turn?”

Nonprofits “weren’t designed to hold up this many people for this long,” NELP’s Evermore said. “These are all finite resources.”

“Unemployment insurance is the program that we created to deal with this particular problem,” she went on. “And without it, we can’t.”

Jessica Oyanagi, 40, was running a photography business out of Maui when the pandemic hit and she lost most of her customers. Because her photographers were independent contractors rather than employees, she was only eligible for unemployment insurance under PUA.

The program affords her about $1,000 a month, which is still not enough to make ends meet: She and her husband were forced to move in with her parents, and they rely in part on food stamps to keep themselves and their daughter fed.

It has been “the most stressful year of my entire life, I’m not going to lie,” Oyanagi said. “Every area of our life has been just completely turned upside down.”

Oyanagi isn’t alone: In mid-November, more than 27 million individuals told the Census Bureau they were relying on unemployment benefits to meet their spending needs. More than 75 million said they expected to lose their employment income in the next four weeks. And nearly 17 million people reported using SNAP benefits — better known as food stamps — to get by.

“They’re already behind on rent, they’re already behind on bills, they’re already struggling to pay utilities, and now they’re about to lose the little bit of income they still have,” said Julia Simon-Mishel, who leads the unemployment compensation practice at Philadelphia Legal Assistance, which provides services to low-income families.

The end of the eviction moratorium that the Trump administration imposed in September also poses a threat.

About 11.4 million renter households will owe an average of just over $6,000 in back rent, utilities and late fees totaling some $70 billion come January, according to Moody’s Analytics.

“Eviction notices are piling up on sheriffs’ desks across the country to be executed if the moratorium is not extended or renters don’t receive help with the back rent they owe,” the firm said in a statement. “Mass evictions in the dead of winter and during a raging pandemic will be unbearable for those losing their homes as well as being a blow to the already-fragile collective psyche.”

Anneliese Monkman, 28, who lost her job at a hotel in the spring and has struggled to find demand for her fledgling wedding planning business, receives about $355 a week in unemployment — all of which will disappear if Congress does not extend the emergency unemployment programs.

“We’re kind of choosing what bills we’re going to pay,” she said.

Workers are likely to dig themselves deeper into debt to weather the lapse in income — a spiral that economists warn could worsen the recession. Last resorts like payday loans or credit cards could serve to dig low-income workers into an even deeper hole, exacerbating wealth inequity.

“They only have high interest options available to them,” Evermore said. “Whenever they do get their pittance for [unemployment insurance] turned back on again … it’s going to go to paying back the debt that they’ve accrued.”

Eleanore Fernandez, 48, was working as an executive assistant at a Silicon Valley startup when the pandemic hit and she lost her job. She makes about $900 a month under one of the federal programs set to expire at the end of the month.

She said if her benefits lapse, she will need to consider taking out a loan on top of the money she already owes her landlord, who has been allowing her to pay 25 percent of her rent.

“I’ve gone through my savings almost now,” she said. “So if [the aid] runs out, then I don’t know.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on December 11, 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.

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.

About the Author: Kellie Mejdrich is a reporter for POLITICO Pro Financial Services.

About the Author: Katherine Landergan covers the state budget, tax policy and labor issues for POLITICO New Jersey.


Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.