(This article initially ran in Tarbell.org, the investigative news site, under a joint publishing arrangement with ThisCantBeHappening.)
With COVID-19 still raging after having killed over 100,000 Americans, making it one of the worst epidemics since the 1918 Spanish flu, and with a staggering 41 million workers, 27% of the labor force, out of a job — a number still rising at a rate of two million a week — the US confronts a unique crisis.
The economy is stalled and in freefall so there is little chance of workers going back to work in significant numbers any time soon. Yet if significant numbers of workers don’t get jobs again, the economy, which is 72 percent dependent upon consumer spending, cannot climb back out of its deepening hole.
Hoping to address this dilemma, Congress in the CARES Act, besides giving every American adult a one-time $1200 stimulus check, as well as $500 for each child, also approved a $600 weekly supplemental amount to add to each weekly unemployment check. The idea was that by spending all that money into the economy — a total likely to approach $250 billion —there would be a boost in economic activity. It hasn’t worked out that way because the losses from the economic lockdowns, which are in the trillions of dollars, have dwarfed the amount of extra spending from the stimulus funding, and economic activity as measured by GDP continues to sink dramatically.
But those unemployment supplement payments are having another unintended consequence, one that many of those in Congress — especially Senate Republicans — are now coming to regret.
Specifically, that extra $600 a week, the amount one would earn in gross pay working 40 hours at $15 per hour, is vastly more money than two-thirds of the unemployed were making when they were working and getting paychecks. Indeed, more than half of those laid off were working at jobs paying close to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, or significantly less if they were working for tips. According to the Becker Friedman Economic Institute at Chicago University, 40% of workers receiving the CARES unemployment supplement checks are now temporarily receiving double what they were making at their last job.
Many laid-off workers clearly had previously been struggling to support themselves and often entire families on their meager pay. For them, becoming unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits represents the first time that they could actually meet their monthly expenses for rent and food. For such people, going back to work would mean losing income and going back into a condition of penury and financial stress.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Congressional Republicans, have been opposing a House third stimulus bill — the $3-trillion HEROES Act — which among other measures would extend the 13-week unemployment stimulus bonus into 2021. The bill’s opponents fear that the continued unemployment bonus will keep workers from going back to work…
To read this article by TCBH!’s DAVE LINDORFF in full, please go to Tarbell.org