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’No words for this’: 10 million workers file jobless claims in just two weeks

Rebecca Rainey
Nolan D. McCaskill

Unemployment claims soared to a record-smashing 6.6million last week, the Labor Department reported, more than double the previous week, signaling more economic pain from the coronavirus pandemic.

The rush to claim unemployment benefits occurred as the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus rose above 200,000 and government measures to contain the epidemic shut down increasing swaths of the U.S. economy, with residents in 37 states now ordered to stay at home.

The total job losses in just two weeks — almost 10 million Americans — amounts to a staggering, sudden blow to American workers never seen before in the U.S. economy. The labor market in the coming weeks could blow past the 15 million jobs lost at the peak of the 18-month Great Recession from 2007 to 2009.

President Donald Trump, who built his record for the past three years in office around economic growth and job growth, has now seen gains from much of the past decade evaporate in a matter of weeks. An official U.S. jobless rate that sat at 3.5% in February is poised to top 10% in April alone, eclipsing the peak of the last recession.

“In one line: No words for this,” Pantheon Macroeconomics Chief Economist Ian Shepherdson wrote in reaction to the numbers.

“What we are going through now dwarfs anything we’ve ever seen, including the worst weeks of the great recession,” tweeted Heidi Shierholz, chief economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “I have spent the last twenty years studying the labor market and have never seen anything like it.”

The new figure, which represents unemployment claims filed the week that ended March 28, marks the largest number of weekly claims ever recorded since the government began collecting such data in 1967. The second-highest number of claims were the 3.3 million filed the week before, and the third-highest about 700,000 claims filed one week in 1982.

The new unemployment claims figure was seasonally adjusted, but the raw numerical increase was still a record-breaking 5.8 million claims.

In a prepared statement, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said, “The administration continues to act quickly to address this impact on American workers.” He then pointed to the recent coronavirus relief package approved by Congress and a final rule issued by the Department of Labor Wednesday enacting temporary paid leave requirements for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Covered employers must give workers who are quarantined or experiencing coronavirus symptoms two weeks paid sick leave, and an additional ten weeks leave to workers who are caring for children stuck at home.

Reports from state unemployment offices, which are still struggling to meet the high volume of requests for unemployment benefits, continue to suggest DOL’s weekly claims figure significantly understates the real number of Americans seeking help.

“We’re hoping today’s reading will be the peak, but we can’t be sure,” Shepherdson of Pantheon wrote in an email. “In any event, total layoffs between the March and April payroll surveys look destined to reach perhaps 16-to-20 [million], consistent with the unemployment rate leaping to 13-to-16 [percent].”

Additionally, the number doesn’t capture self-employed workers, who are not eligible for state unemployment benefits. But under a new temporary program that was signed into law one day before the reporting period ended, gig workers will be eligible to apply to state unemployment offices for up to 39 weeks unemployment benefits that will be funded entirely by the federal government. States are awaiting guidance from DOL on how to put this new program into effect.

Also left out of the count are people who left the workforce voluntarily for any reason — including to care for a sick family member, a child home from school, or because they are sick, themselves, from Covid-19, the illness caused by the unique coronavirus.

The Congressional Budget Office released an updated economic forecast on Thursday that suggests the effects of mass joblessness and business closures will sting for some time, with an unemployment rate as high as 9 percent by the end of 2021.

In the nearterm, the CBO projected that the jobless rate will blow past 10 percent in the second quarter of this year, with GDP expected to fall by 7 percent over the next three months.

Director Phillip Swagel cautioned that CBO’s estimates are “very preliminary“ and “based on information about the economy that was available through this morning,” warning the numbers are subject to change and even worsen. The projections assume that social distancing continues across the country for an average of three months and that later outbreaks of the virus are possible, he said.

The increase in claims remained concentrated in the services industries, according to DOL, particularly accommodation and food services. States also reported increases in claims from workers in thehealth care, manufacturing, retail and construction industries.

The greatest number of new unemployment claims were in California, which processed an estimated 878,727 claims last week. That figure is up from 186,333 in the previous week and more than 21 times the typical volume the department handled before the pandemic.

California’s employment agency, which is handling the onslaught of claims, has said it has not experienced delays, but Twitter is awash with complaints from workers about overloaded phone lines, difficulties filing online and confusion about how to apply for federal CARES Act relief as independent contractors.

To speed up the approval process, the department has added hundreds of employees to process claims. It has also relaxed its initial verification requirements at the direction of the state’s labor secretary, allowing the checks to go out more quickly.

After California, Pennsylvania was next with 405,880 new claims.

New York, which leads the country in confirmed coronavirus cases, reported 366,403 new claims last week. That figure, however, is likely a massive undercount. The official tally is almost certainly missing vast numbers of New Yorkers who have been frantically attempting to file claims with the state’s outdated website and telephone lines to no avail.

In addition to the anecdotal evidence of dropped calls and online applications interrupted by crashes, the DOL report sheds some more light onto just how few residents are getting through: New York state had to revise its jobless claim numbers from earlier in the month upward by nearly 85 percent.

“Today’s jobless report shows the grim reality of the coronavirus’ crippling effect on our economy and working families,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “The Department of Labor must move heaven and earth to — as quickly as possible — get the expanded unemployment benefits Congress passed last week into the pockets of workers who have lost their paychecks through no fault of their own. America’s workers and families cannot afford a delay.”

New Jersey, which has recorded 22,255 positive cases of Covid-19 since early last month, reported 205,515 unemployment claims.

Illinois has been taking steps to update and streamline unemployment claims. The state received more than 114,000 claims last week.

Over the past few weeks, the Illinois Department of Employment Security website has been moved to a new hardware infrastructure to handle the increased demand. Web, storage and processing capacity has also been improved to meet the increased needs, according to the governor’s office. The state says call center capacity has been increased and daily call center hours have been extended.

Florida will start accepting paper applications for unemployment benefits as a result of ongoing crashes and failures with its online system, Ken Lawson, the head of the state agency that processes claims, said Thursday.

Florida’s online system, CONNECT, went offline for hours Wednesday as the state dealt with an unprecedented surge of jobless claims. Florida had more than 222,000 claims last week.

Lawson, director of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, announced the move at a town hall meeting with two Democratic legislators. He also apologized for the ongoing problems. The beginning of the town hall was disrupted by hackers and others who cursed at Lawson and the legislators.

The “next week or two” is going to be difficult, Lawson said.

Katy Murphy, Caitlin Emma, Shia Kapos, Joe Anuta,Gary Fineout and Katherine Landergan contributed to this report.

This article was originally published at Politico on April 2, 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.

Rainey holds a bachelor’s degree from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

She was born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland and grew up 30 minutes from the beach. She loves to camp, hike and be by the water whenever she can.

About the Author: Nolan D. McCaskill is a national political reporter covering the 2020 presidential race.

He previously covered Congress and authored the Huddle newsletter at POLITICO, where he started as an inaugural member of POLITICO’s Journalism Institute in 2014 before accepting a yearlong fellowship through 2015, later becoming a breaking news reporter and briefly covering the White House.

Nolan is a December 2014 graduate of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. He was editor-in-chief of his college newspaper, The Famuan, and a former producer for his university’s live television newscasts.

Nolan is PJI’s inaugural Emerging Communicator and a 2017-18 National Press Foundation Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow.

Millions of People Can’t Pay Rent Tomorrow. Here’s How Some Are Organizing.

Image result for mindy isser

As April 1 looms and the first rent payment since the start of the coronavirus pandemic becomes due, countless people wonder how they’ll be able to afford to pay. Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, millions have had their hours cut, been furloughed, or laid off. A whopping 3.3 million have applied for unemployment benefits, and some say the unemployment rate could reach 30%. To put that in perspective, the unemployment rate during the Great Depression was 25%.

The cost of rent has skyrocketed the past few decades, while the federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised since the $7.25 wage took effect in 2009. And as worker productivity has soared to new heights, studies show that wages have stagnated across the board. This has been a problem for working people even in times of normalcy—in expensive urban cores like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, many bounce from friends’ couches to shelters and even sometimes to their own cars. But in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the housing crisis is understandably exploding: Those who were able to just barely pay their rent before are now scrambling to keep the landlord at bay.

Housing activists have been calling for a reprieve on evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, and numerous cities states have reacted quickly, placing a temporary moratorium on evictions or a pause on housing court. But none yet have frozen rent payments, and tomorrow is April 1—and the rent is due.

While the fear and panic that people may feel when they’re unable to pay their rent or mortgage can seem individual and unique, it’s actually shared between the millions of others who are in the same boat. Right to the City Alliance, a national network of more than 80 racial, economic and environmental justice organizations, is hoping to turn that collective anxiety into collective action. The alliance is calling for an immediate cancellation of rent and mortgage payments through the duration of the public health and economic crisis for all renters, homeowners and small businesses and a three-month recovery period. These demands expand beyond a rent and mortgage freeze and include calling for the immediate release of those being held in pre-trial and immigrant detention, an indefinite suspension of utility shutoffs, and a guarantee of unemployment insurance, sick time, paid leave, health care, and a living wage for all workers.

For many, rent cancellation is urgently needed to ward off personal financial catastrophe. Coya Crespin of Community Alliance of Tenants of Portland, Oregon, said in a statement, “As a pregnant single parent without any savings, and now schools being shut down, it has been difficult keeping my kids fed. Many of the members of the housing organization I’m a member of have been contacting me afraid of not being able to pay rent in April. The stimulus package check that politicians are lifting up as a solution doesn’t even cover one month’s rent in most cases. People are beyond stressed. I’m beyond stressed.”

Many of these demands have been voiced for years, but have been popularized by the Bernie Sanders campaign and the #HomesGuarantee platform, which would implement a national rent control standard and a just-cause requirement for evictions.Even presidential candidate Bernie Sanders agrees that “along with pausing mortgage payments, evictions, and utility shutoffs, we must place a moratorium on rent payments” during the coronavirus pandemic. And because President Trump’s recovery proposal is a paltry $1,200—not even enough to cover rent in many cities—tenants (and even some homeowners) are being forced to make a public declaration that, without more aid, they can’t (and won’t) pay. Housing activists are using this moment of true desperation to demand the support they deserve—but there are some disagreements on the way forward.

While Right to the City Alliance is pushing for an immediate suspension of rent and mortgage payments throughout the coronavirus crisis, and for a three-month period after it ends, others are calling for rent strikes if the government doesn’t act. David Cardenas, National Field Organizer at the Right to the City Alliance, said his network is “supporting a diversity of tactics in the alliance.” Rent Strike 2020, a new organizing campaign working in partnership with Socialist Alternative and the Rose Caucus, a group of socialists running for both state and federal House and Senate seats, is demanding “every Governor, in every state: freeze rent, mortgage, and utility bill collection for two months, or face a rent strike.” Tenants in New York are waiting for Governor Cuomo to provide some relief, but are prepared to take matters into their own hands and go on a rent strike if he does not act.

Davin Cardenas, National Field Organizer at the Right to the City Alliance said, “We see rent strikes as a collective action that comes from deep organizing on the local level and some of our member organizations are going to use that tactic. We need people to come together, organize, and join the movement for long-term and transformative struggle so we can fundamentally change the housing system and win homes for all.”

The Philadelphia Tenants Union, in its COVID-19 Tenant Organizing Guide, urges people to be strategic and think long and hard about what their demands really are: “A rent strike is a tool, not a demand,” the guide states. It specifies, “In a situation where the demand is ‘stop collecting rent from me,’ it’s questionable how effective a rent strike would be. To put it another way, how does withholding rent pressure a landlord to suspend rent?”

There are a number of tactics being put forward in this moment, but one thing is for certain: In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the housing movement is empowering tenants to take big and bold action. No one can predict what will happen on or immediately after April 1, when millions potentially don’t pay their rent, but Cardenas said, “It’s not likely that we’ll see relief, and even the relief that comes in before May 1 won’t be sufficient for what our families need across the country. There is not going to be a return to normalcy or a return to business as usual.”

To sustain any long-term movement—and to win real power for tenants—it’s going to take more than one-off rent strikes or single issue demands. It’s going to take building powerful, working-class organizations. The Philadelphia Tenants Union, in its guide, writes “Building strong, durable organization among tenants where there is an abundance of leaders and widespread trust yields the most successful and lasting results.” This must be the lesson for our movements going forward. April 1 may indeed be a pivotal moment in a growing housing movement that is being propelled forward by the crisis of this moment. How we help to steer the real hardships that so many workers are facing into a sustained and determined fight in the days that follow, however, will determine whether we can transform this moment of collective suffering into collective power.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on March 31, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.

Garbage Collectors’ Lives Are Not Disposable

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The coronavirus pandemic is ravaging our country, manifesting both as a health crisis and a jobs crisis. While the unemployment rate could soar to 30%, many workers whose industries are generally ignored or disrespected have been deemed essential, and have been putting themselves in harm’s way to keep our society functioning.

No role is more critical than that of sanitation workers, who, in times of normalcy, keep cities and towns healthy, clean and safe. They have one of the most important—and most dangerous—jobs in our country, and yet are routinely belittled. But now, in the midst of a global pandemic, we need them more than ever: Their work is critical in containing COVID-19.

While many of us self-isolate at home, sanitation workers are on the front lines, picking up our garbage and potentially exposing themselves to the virus. Sanitation workers in North Carolina, many of whom are members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 150, have been organizing to protect themselves and their families from coronavirus. Unfortunately, the second reported coronavirus-related death in the state was of a Raleigh sanitation worker, Adrian Grubbs. Raleigh City Workers Union, a chapter of the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, UE Local 150, has put forward a set of 10 demands, including immediate coronavirus tests for all Solid Waste Services workers, proper personal protective equipment, adequate hazard pay, and the ability to immediately meet and confer with the City Manager.

In These Times spoke with Charlen Parker, President of Raleigh City Workers Union. Parker hails from Clinton, North Carolina and has been a sanitation worker for nearly 16 years. He is the president of the Raleigh City Workers Union.

Mindy Isser: I am so sorry about what happened to Adrian. How are you all holding up and dealing with his passing?

Charlen Parker: To a lot of us, it’s still surreal because just about everyone knew him. We saw him just about every day when we came into work. We expected it to be like a regular work week. But then we came in and first they had a meeting where we found out he had it, and then the next day we started hearing little reports that he didn’t make it. It’s a hard pill to swallow when it’s someone that you’re used to seeing and being right there with. We hear about the coronavirus and see it on the news and everything, but a lot of people feel like it doesn’t affect them until it’s right there in your face. Hearts and prayers go out to his family, it’s been very difficult.

Mindy: It sounds like you didn’t hear that he was sick until right before he passed away.

Charlen: Yes, we had a meeting on Tuesday morning as we clocked in, and then they had us divided in groups. Our director told us that Adrian Grubbs had contracted it and that he had permission from the family to let us know about his condition. He made his statement, and we walked out and some of us talked amongst ourselves. We sent him our prayers and hoped that he was gonna be alright and that hopefully in a few weeks that we’d be able to see him. That was Tuesday. Wednesday we came into work and everybody was doing their route, and we can leave whenever we get done to keep us from being on top of each other. I was leaving and walking to the parking lot, and I got a phone call from another employee who told me that he heard that Grubbs didn’t make it, that he had passed. He had heard it from two other co-workers and I was like, okay, you know how people spread rumors and whatnot and sometimes their information is not factual. So I said, I hadn’t heard anything official, so maybe it’s just that they’re running off at the mouth and don’t have the right information. And then we came into work on Thursday morning and there’s another meeting where it’s confirmed that he had passed away.

Mindy: And when people found out, obviously they were really upset and sad. Was anyone afraid for their own health? Because I’m sure people had come into contact with him perhaps before he even knew he was sick.

Charlen: Immediately, we felt the sadness. But then right after the sadness, the question was then, how long had he been sick? Who has he been around? What has he touched? Where had he been at? That quickly became the immediate concern.

Mindy: Did anyone get time off of work to self-isolate or is everything kind of business as usual?

Charlen: When our Director made the initial statement that Grubbs had contracted coronavirus, he also said that there were two employees that had quarantined themselves because they had been in close proximity to Grubbs. They didn’t identify the two employees, and that was basically it.

We’re all always on top of each other, we’re always all running into each other, and we were all wondering who the two employees were and if they had interacted with us—because we don’t know who they are. On the administrative side, they get to work from home, so we don’t know if they were talking about them, and since we’re staggered, you can’t pinpoint if it was one of us, because we’re not all there at the same time. 

Mindy: What is Raleigh doing to protect sanitation workers?

Charlen: They’ve been giving out face masks and latex gloves. I think as of Friday, and I cannot confirm, that they’ve increased the amount of gloves you get. They’re supposed to be sanitizing the building daily, but a lot of my coworkers have expressed concerns about that. The normal person who cleans we saw on Tuesday, but since Tuesday no one that I’ve talked to can account for seeing her or anyone else in the building doing additional cleaning. I don’t want to say they haven’t had anybody, but we haven’t seen anybody. And I think they said they have a company that comes in and does a thorough cleaning of the building, but that’s only once a week.

Mindy: What do you think the city should be doing to protect you?

Charlen: The major concern right now amongst many of my co-workers is that, since Grubbs did have it, many of us want to be tested. We understand that they have limited tests, but from my perspective, we’re on the front lines, and we have to go out there and be in the middle of it. The least that they could do is to test us so that we can either confirm or deny who does or doesn’t have it. We have families. One thing that they mentioned to us was that maybe we can be tested if we start to show symptoms, but you can carry the coronavirus and not have any symptoms—a lot of people don’t feel like they’re taking that into account. Many of us have children, we have people in our families that have health issues, and no one wants to bring that home to our families.

Mindy: How does it feel to be playing such a critical role right now with how serious the coronavirus crisis is becoming?

Charlen: I’ve understood for a while the health risk of not picking up garbage, including the spread of disease and the increase of vermin. Personally, I feel good when I know I’m providing a service that helps people. Especially lately when people are staying home from work, you’ll see whole families outside waving and smiling. Even though we’re going through this crisis, you still see families out smiling and enjoying themselves. It makes it worth it.

Mindy: Many people are working from home right now, but many other workers like yourself can’t do that. What do you think all essential workers—like grocery store workers, utility workers—deserve right now in terms of protections, hazard pay, etc.?

Charlen: All of your frontline employees and essential personnel should be tested because we are the ones in direct contact, we have to be out there. I feel like it shouldn’t be an issue to get us supplies, getting us tested, and doing everything you can do to protect us. One of the options we were talking about was alternating shifts—one crew comes in for a whole week, and the following week they’re off and the other crew comes in for a week. I think this would be a great idea. My only concern is that I don’t know if we have enough personnel to do it and get stuff up off the ground in a timely manner to where guys won’t be out there all day. That’s one of my major concerns.

They have given us a 5% increase in pay, which I don’t feel like is enough. The state is considering time-and-a-half pay. That would be good. Whole Foods is paying an extra $2 an hour, which is more than what we get with our hazard pay.

Mindy: In 2006, Raleigh sanitation workers went on a wildcat strike. Many of their demands were around health and safety issues. How have things changed since you started in Raleigh six years ago?

Charlen: We’re supposed to have a safety coordinator. Since I have been at the City of Raleigh, I’ve had four different safety coordinators, and it’s been almost a year since the last one was there. We currently don’t have a safety coordinator at Solid Waste Services. With regards to safety, we still have some issues. They get into meetings and stress safety, but I don’t think they understand that there are certain things we can’t do because we don’t have enough personnel or equipment. A lot of times we have a lot of equipment issues. We do have a high turnover rate. They say right now that we’re fully staffed, but I don’t see how that could be possible when the city is constantly growing, they’re building subdivisions, and they’re increasing the amount of work we have to do, which means we have to stay out there longer. Sometimes we will go out there and our equipment is not always up to par like it should be. We need adequate equipment to work with.

Mindy: How is UE 150 organizing and fighting back to protect workers during the coronavirus crisis? Have you made any demands of the city?

Charlen: On March 17, we sent a letter with some of our concerns to Mayor Baldwin, City Manager Ruffin Hall, and City Council. They basically ignored us. After Adrian Grubbs, we also sent another letter with 10 demands. Some of the demands include meeting with the City Manager to express concerns about frontline workers. We have concerns and don’t feel like they’re listening to us. Another demand is since the passing of Adrian Grubbs, we haven’t heard the followup to how he got sick, where he got sick, where he’s been, and who he’s been in contact with.

Workers have been standing up and organizing all over the place—I saw Pittsburgh sanitation workers went out on a wildcat strike this past week. Have you all been inspired by other workers who have been speaking out and taking action since the coronavirus started?

Charlen: Yes, of course, but on the other hand, there is a lot of fear out there where I work at. You have some employees that want to stand up and do something. But other workers believe that they’re not gonna listen, they’re not gonna do anything, they’re gonna do what they want to do, they’re gonna treat us how they want, so what’s the point of standing up?

Mindy: How do you think we can fight back against that? Do you think if people saw other workers coming together and winning they would be inspired to take action?

Charlen: We have a new administration in Solid Waste Services. That’s because a couple of years ago we protested people in management, and every single name on all of the petitions we circulated are gone—they either left or were terminated. The new administration cleaned house because of our list of bad supervisors. That’s the power that we have, I’ve been explaining that to my coworkers. The only way we win is by doing something.

Mindy: What would you say to other workers right now—the ones who have to keep coming to work—about how they can keep themselves safe while they’re on the job?

Charlen: Working in sanitation is the fifth most dangerous job in the United States on fatalities. We should get hazard pay all the time. I don’t understand how the police and fire department have no problem getting hazard pay, but we can’t get hazard pay.

If I could borrow from Dominic Harris, the president of the Charlotte City Workers Chapter of UE Local 150, who said on a conference call that the coronavirus crisis is the perfect opportunity for workers. You can see how much power that you’ve got during this crisis and how much they rely and depend on us. This is the perfect opportunity to use that power and stand up and get the things that we need.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on March 30, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.

‘Now, I’m Unemployed’: How Coronavirus Killed Off the Capitol Hill Internship

Jordan Muller (@jordanmuller18) | Twitter

They thought they were getting their foot in the door for a career in politics. Now, their internships have abruptly ended — and their ambitions are on hold.

Congress’ frenzied effort to respond to the coronavirus crisis has been one of the most furious sessions of lawmaking in history. Just days after a congressional staffer tested positive for the virus, the House passed a bipartisan coronavirus response bill securing food aid, free access to testing and extended paid time off for vulnerable Americans. On the other side of the Capitol building, senators and their aides remained at work deep into the night this week, negotiating the specifics of the $2 trillion economic rescue package they passed unanimously late Wednesday night — and which the House is expected to vote on as early as Friday morning.

Noticeably absent from the hubbub? Congressional interns, whose semesters on the Hill have ended abruptly in response to the coronavirus.

For thousands of students, the coronavirus has disrupted the usual flow of college life, forcing students from their dorms, leading school administrators to cancel graduation ceremonies, and driving professors to their laptops to wrap up their classes via video conference. But for those students who had lined up internships in Washington this semester, efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus have disrupted or outright canceled what those interns had hoped would be a foot in the door for a post-collegiate job in politics.

“I’m pretty much in limbo,” said Wayne A. Rodriquez Jr., an American University student who interned in Rep. Jim Himes’ office this semesteruntil two weeks ago, when his internship abruptly ended due to coronavirus fears. “I don’t really know where to go from here, because I was supposed to carry on, and now, I’m unemployed.”

Unlike their colleagues in staff jobs, who are federal employees, interns are totally discretionary — each office hires its own — even as they are subject to many of the same centralized rules that apply to staffers. Similarly, it’s left to each individual congressional office how to handle coronavirus — whether that meant a premature end to internships, a work-from-home arrangement, or something else entirely. So, almost at random, as some of their offices swung into furious action and some went into hibernation, interns found themselves on the outside.

While some congressional interns have been forced to work from home, others have been furloughed or had their program cut completely. Those who are out of work join the swelling ranks of Americans who have lost their jobs in recent days, and whose career prospects remain uncertain as the economy tumbles and businesses shut down.

By March 12, the day after a Senate staffer tested positive for the coronavirus, some congressional offices had begun ordering their staff to work remotely. For some interns, whose programs are managed by individual offices, that marked an unceremonious end to their short semester on the Hill.

“[That] was my last day, and I was only in [the office] for like two hours,” said one congressional intern, who, like most interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press and feared that doing so could hurt their career prospects. “I didn’t even say goodbye to anyone.”

For young politicos, congressional internships are something of a rite of passage — the first rung of the ladder in a career in government and politics. Each semester, hundreds of college students flock to congressional offices to answer phone calls and emails, give tours to constituents, draft press releases, research legislation and schedule appointments. Many of those tasks are impossible to do remotely, and even among those interns who were able to retain their positions, it’s impossible to access the secure congressional computers and networks necessary to do many of their usual daily tasks.

“To go from working eight or nine hours a day to doing two or three hours of work, if that, is pretty difficult,” said one House intern, who’s working remotely and still getting paid. “I’m used to doing stuff all day, and now I’m doing nothing.”

Another House intern told POLITICO that he’s been out of work for a week and a half, since his member’s office began working from home. He’s still receiving a monthly $500 stipend, but can’t access his House email account remotely and hasn’t been assigned any work. In the meantime, he’s waiting out the crisis at his mom’s house in Maryland, and preparing to apply for other jobs in D.C.

Capitol Hill, long known for its close quarters where members and staff mingle collegially as a constant stream of visitors pass through, is seen as particularly vulnerable to the spread of the novel coronavirus. Members must vote in person, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges Americans to gather in groups of no larger than 10. The average age of a House member is nearly 59; for Senators, it’s 63. Two House members and one senator have already tested positive for the virus, with dozens more in self-quarantine.

Congressional offices often hire interns from the pool of students in Washington-area colleges. But those schools, like most across the country, have shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Some of the region’s largest colleges, including Georgetown, George Washington University, Howard University and American University, are shuttering their dorms and shifting classes online — leaving students scrambling to figure out their housing situations, move out of the dorms and wrap up their internships.

One student at GW whose House internship ended two weeks ago, said that even if their member’s office returns to in-person work, they won’t be able to live in D.C. to finish their internship: They’ve already moved all their belongings out of the dorm, flown home, and the college will not let students move back.

Another student, a Senate intern who is now working remotely, took the semester off from college to intern on Capitol Hill. He had been living in dorm-style housing with six other congressional interns who are now unable to work from their members’ offices. After a few days cooped up with his roommates, unable to get work done — or even to seek a reprieve by taking his laptop to the neighborhood Starbucks — he packed up his belongings and moved out of the dorm to stay with relatives in the area.

“I’m hoping that this isn’t the end of my internship,” he said.“I guess it really makes me value the ability to be able to do in-person work experience a lot more.”

This article was originally published at Politico on March 26, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jordan Muller is an editorial intern at Politico Magazine.

Working or Unemployed, Construction Workers Are Screwed

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With no firm national standards about shutting down construction projects as the coronavirus stalks the nation, building trade unions and their members are facing a grim multidimensional crisis: high unemployment, faltering pensions, lost benefits, plummeting dues revenue—and, for those who do remain on the job, the constant question of whether they should quit in order to protect their health.

Leaders at two major building trade unions this week described an increasingly desperate economic climate for their members. Eric Dean, the president of the 130,000-member Ironworkers Union, said that 30% of his work force was “idle or sitting at home,” and that unemployment continues to rise by the day. Jim Williams, vice president and organizing director at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, said that unemployment among his members has shot up to 50% in the course of a single week.

The price of this sudden economic dislocation is vast. In particular, health care benefits of the idled construction workers are now at risk, just when they need it most. Also at risk are the unions’ pension funds, which have cratered along with financial markets, endangering retirement benefits for thousands of members. The multi-employer pension fund of the Ironworkers, which was still recovering from the losses of the 2008 financial crisis, has now taken a 20% hit on its portfolio. “With our hours down and our investments down, a blind man can see that we’ve been severely impacted,” Dean said.

It is hard to know whether those construction workers who are still working should be considered lucky. In the coronavirus epicenter of New York, and in most other states, construction workers have been deemed “essential employees,” allowing their employers to keep them building on crowded job sites, where “social distancing” is next to impossible. Dean said that, for the first time in his career, he has seen construction projects building worker housing on job sites in order to keep workers isolated and close to their workplace. At the same time, ironworkers have told him that walking through empty streets in order to get to their still-active building sites “makes me feel that I’m expendable.”

“There’s a growing sentiment among our workforce that maybe [unemployment] should be higher, because of the health and safety risk of being on a construction site,” Jim Williams said. Among IUPAT members, there is a split down the middle between those who are more concerned about health risks, and those who say “I need to work so that I have my health care coverage, so that I can continue my way of life. It’s a Catch-22.” Though the union can see why work on critical infrastructure like the electrical and water systems must continue, commercial construction “can certainly slow down,” he said. “I don’t believe building a millionaire’s or billionaire’s condominium” is worth the risk.

The stimulus bill now working its way through Congress is only a half measure, as far as the unions are concerned. A coalition of building trade unions lobbied for four “planks” to be included in the bill: better unemployment compensation, healthcare coverage that won’t lapse, shoring up pension funds, and a large investment in national infrastructure—a policy that Democrats and Republicans have been talking about for years without ever making it a reality. Of those four goals, only the unemployment compensation aspect will be fulfilled in the current bill. Already, the building trades are pushing for another stimulus bill after this one is completed. “This was the relief bill,” Williams said. “There’s going to have to be a recovery bill, too.”

Besides the direct impacts to members, the unions themselves are now staring down the second-order consequence of widespread unemployment: a dropoff in union dues. IUPAT has already told its locals that it is waiving member dues for the month of April as a relief measure, and will assess again after that. Waiving dues, however, inevitably eats away at the revenue unions use to maintain their staffing—and to lobby Congress for whatever comes next. According to Dean, the Ironworkers lost around 15% of their members after the 2008 recession, a figure they are using as a baseline now. But everyone acknowledges that this time could be worse. And Dean suspects that if work dries up, more members closing in on retirement age may decide to go ahead and retire early, further weakening the active membership numbers.

If there is any silver lining, it is that whenever the industry picks back up again, non-union construction workers may feel more enticed to organize, after witnessing their higher-paid union colleagues make use of at least a marginal safety net during this crisis. “It presents the opportunity for the labor movement to get it right,” said Williams. “Any time we miss that, we miss a golden opportunity.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 26, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.

Trump administration wants states to zip their lips about soaring unemployment numbers

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Unemployment is skyrocketing as entire industries shut down or scale back dramatically in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment claims rose 30% last week, with 281,000 newly jobless people filing for unemployment insurance. But the numbers that are still to come are going to be much worse. How much worse? Well, the Labor Department is asking states not to give any numbers until the official report comes out, because the financial markets will see and it will be bad.

On Wednesday, the Labor Department’s administrator of the Office of Employment Insurance (a career official, not a political appointee) sent state officials an email telling them to “provide information using generalities to describe claims levels (very high, large increase).” Perhaps state officials should pay a visit to Thesaurus.com for some help, and tell the public, “We can’t give you exact numbers here, but there has been an enormous/giant/gigantic/hefty/huge increase in unemployment claims this week. For exact numbers, wait until the federal government releases them next week.” That will surely ease anxieties!

Washington state’s new unemployment claims rose by 150% last week—and while officials there aren’t giving numbers, they did say there’s an “even more dramatic increase this week.” In Pennsylvania, a state labor official told lawmakers and union leaders that there had been 180,000 new unemployment claims in recent days. That’s more than the state typically sees in a month.

It sounds like we might need to go back to the thesaurus to convey the magnitude of the job losses going on. How about gargantuan? Immense? Massive?

Or maybe—here’s a thought—numbers. Waiting until Thursday to know the scope of the economic crisis is not going to calm anyone down. We saw that when Donald Trump attempted to downplay the coronavirus crisis because he was worried about how the markets would respond, and the markets tanked anyway. Everyone knows things are really, really, really bad out there. Knowing that the government is being transparent would at least be one piece of good news.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on March 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

Coronavirus layoffs surge across America, overwhelming unemployment offices

Rebecca Rainey

Employers are slashing jobs at a furious pace across the nation due to mass shutdowns over the coronavirus, slamming state unemployment offices with a crush of filers facing sudden crises.

Long before official government data is expected to reveal the depths of the economic shock inflicted by the coronavirus, reports from state officials and businesses around the country indicate the gathering of a massive wave of unemployment on a scale unseen since the Great Recession.

In New Jersey, 15,000 people applied for unemployment benefits on Monday, a twelvefold increase over normal levels. In Connecticut, nearly 8,000 applications arrived over the weekend, an eightfold increase over the norm. Rhode Island officials reported Tuesday a five-day rise in claims due to the coronavirus from 10 on March 11 to 6,282 on March 16.

More than 45,000 Ohio workers have applied for unemployment over the past week, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services told Sen. Rob Portman, a nearly sevenfold increase over the previous week.

The dramatic rise in claims could spur further action by Congress beyond the legislation now under discussion. “This demonstrates the urgency for Congress to act, and act quickly,” Portman said Tuesday in a written statement.

According to an NPR/Marist poll conducted Thursday and Friday, 18 percent of households already reported someone being laid off or having hours reduced because of the coronavirus outbreak, with women hit harder (21 percent) than men (16 percent), and people who earn less than $50,000 hit harder (25 percent) than those earning $50,000 or more (14 percent).

“A coronavirus recession is inevitable,” said Josh Bivens, director of research at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, in a blog post. He estimated that at least 3 million jobs will be lost by summer. Meanwhile, the U.S. Travel Association was projecting 4.6 million jobs lost this year in the travel industry alone, pushing the unemployment rate up to 6.3 percent.

The layoffs swept businesses large and small. On Tuesday Marriott said it expects to lay off tens of thousands of workers worldwide. MGM Resorts International on Monday closed 150 restaurants and bars, with more closings to come; Caesars Entertainment Corp. said it also has begun layoffs. In D.C., Compass Coffee, a local Starbucks competitor, laid off most of its 189 employees, and the Dubliner, a popular Irish bar on Capitol Hill, laid off all of them, leaving the place empty on St. Patrick’s Day.

During the past 48 hours, unemployment insurance offices around the country were flooded with phone calls, and state unemployment websites crashed in KentuckyOregon, and New York.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill late Tuesday were racing toward a deal with the White House on an economic stimulus package to aid industries disrupted by the pandemic, and ironing out the details on a separate coronavirus aid package.

But many state unemployment insurance programs are ill-prepared for the downturn. Twenty-two states and jurisdictions, including California, New York, Illinois and Texas, have dangerously low reserves, and 10 have reduced the number of weeks they offer benefits since the 2007-09 Great Recession. The duration of eligibility for unemployment insurance in any given state won’t be affected by the legislation moving through Congress.

With the Trump administration and other nations considering travel restrictions, and more Americans pulling back on nonessential trips, the travel and hospitality industries have been among the first to see job cuts.

“We are adjusting global operations accordingly,” a Marriott spokesperson said in an emailed statement, “which has meant either reduction in hours or a temporary leave for many of our associates at our properties.” The spokesperson said that employees “will keep their health benefits during this difficult period and continue to be eligible for company- paid free short-term disability that provides income protection should they get sick.”

Several airlines have cut back service, and Delta recently announced a hiring freeze in the wake of the outbreak.

Ian Kullgren contributed to this report.

This article was originally published at Politico on March 17, 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.

Rainey holds a bachelor’s degree from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

She was born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland and grew up 30 minutes from the beach. She loves to camp, hike and be by the water whenever she can.

Economy Gains 266,000 Jobs in November; Unemployment Down Slightly to 3.5%

The U.S. economy gained 266,000 jobs in November, and the unemployment rate was essentially unchanged at 3.5%, according to figures released Friday morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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

 

Last month’s biggest job gains were in manufacturing (54,000), health care (45,000), leisure and hospitality (45,000), professional and technical services (31,000), transportation and warehousing (16,000) and financial activities (13,000). Mining lost jobs (-7,000). Employment in other major industries—including retail trade, construction, wholesale trade, information and government—showed little change over the month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for teenagers (12.0%), blacks (5.5%), Hispanics (4.2%), adult men (3.2%), whites (3.2%), adult women (3.2%) and Asians (2.6%) showed little or no change in November.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) declined in November and accounted for 20.8% of the unemployed.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on December 10, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Trade war drives up unemployment in key 2020 battleground states

Unemployment remains low nationwide, but it’s starting to tick up in a some key places—places dependent on the industries hit hard by Donald Trump’s trade war, and places that just happen to be in battleground states.

In around one in three counties in the United States, unemployment is higher than it was a year ago. That’s a troubling sign, but what may be most significant is that every county in Wisconsin, which Trump narrowly won in 2016, and every county in New Hampshire, which Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016, are among those one in three. The same is true of a majority of counties in Michigan, Minnesota, and North Carolina. (The same is also true of some states that won’t be 2020 battlegrounds.)

Analysts differ on what impact rising unemployment might have on Trump’s reelection chances. On the one hand, “In a 2017 analysis, Georgetown University economists modeled how swing-state county unemployment impacted the presidential vote, and found what Georgetown’s Dennis Quinn said in an email was ‘a significant penalty from rising unemployment, especially in swing states like Wisconsin.’” But on the other hand, the director of the Michigan Economic Center says that “I don’t think they will blame Trump for it. They are more likely to keep lashing out at immigrants and others.”

Whatever the political fallout, right now, a food pantry in Marinette, Wisconsin, has seen the number of people needing its services rise by 600 in just six months. That points to rising human suffering, which needs to be fought regardless of who the people in question plan to vote for.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor

Economy Gains 75,000 Jobs in May; Unemployment Steady at 3.6%

The U.S. economy gained 75,000 jobs in May, and the unemployment rate remained at 3.6%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wage growth of 3.1% was lower than last month’s 3.4% and, a downward revision of 75,000 for the job numbers for March and April signals that the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee needs to inch down interest rates.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Last month’s biggest job gains were in professional and business services (33,000), health care (16,000) and construction (4,000). Employment in other major industries, including mining, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government, showed little change over the month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates fell for blacks (6.2%). The unemployment rates for teenagers (12.7%), Hispanics (4.2%), adult men (3.3%), whites (3.3%), adult women (3.2%) and Asians (2.5%) showed little or no change in May.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed in May and accounted for 22.4% of the unemployed.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on June 7, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

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