As hospitals filled with ever-more coronavirus patients, food bank queues swelled, new applications for unemployment insurance rose for the second straight week, and there was zero sign that Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans would support Democratic proposals for economic relief anytime soon, Donald Trump made the briefest of no-questions-allowed appearances Tuesday to crow about the Dow Jones industrial average passing 30,000 for the first time. Not exactly a surprise since that’s the only economic metric that truly animates the squatter in the White House.
That praise is especially pathetic in light of today’s announcement from the Labor Department. For the 36th consecutive week, more than a million Americans filed initial claims for unemployment insurance in the week ending Nov. 21. Specifically, 778,000 filed for jobless benefits under regular state programs, and 312,000 filed under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that covers gig workers, the self-employed, and others who aren’t covered by the state programs. It was the second week in a row that the number of new filings rose. Tough as it is living on benefit payments amounting to about 40% of a person’s average wages, it’s going to be lot tougher for jobless workers in a few weeks when those benefits run out for 12 million Americans, more than half of the 20.5 million now receiving them.
The vast majority of states set a limit of 26 weeks for how long someone out of work can collect unemployment checks, although the duration ranges from 12 to 30 weeks, depending on the state. Under the CARES Act passed in March, Congress approved an additional 13 weeks under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits programs for people who exhaust their regular benefits. But those programs, along with the PUA for free-lancers, expire the day after Christmas. According to a report by Andrew Stettner and Elizabeth Pancotti at the Century Foundation, 4.4 million workers have already exhausted their benefits.
Heidi Shierholz at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute writes:
[B]locking more COVID relief is not just cruel, it’s bad economic policy. UI is great stimulus. The spending made possible by pandemic UI benefits is supporting millions of jobs. Letting these benefits expire means cutting those jobs. There are now 25.7 million workers who are officially unemployed, otherwise out of work because of the virus, or have seen a drop in hours and pay because of the pandemic. And job growth is slowing. Stimulus is desperately needed.
Blocking stimulus is also exacerbating racial inequality. Due to the impact of historic and current systemic racism, Black and Latinx communities have seen more job loss in this recession, and have less wealth to fall back on. The lack of stimulus hits these workers the hardest, which means stimulus is a racial justice issue. Further, workers in this pandemic aren’t just losing their jobs—millions of workers and their family members have lost employer-provided health insurance due to the COVID-19 downturn. Senate Republicans are failing struggling families.
The pain is already immense. Food banks in state after state after state after state after state are overwhelmed with families unable to afford to feed themselves. Natalie Colarossi at Newsweek reports that Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization, estimates 50 million Americans may be in need of food this Thanksgiving, one in six of them adults, one in four of them children.
Donita Naylor at The Providence Journal reports:
The pandemic that has taken almost 1,300 Rhode Island lives has also plunged people into food insecurity at a rate not seen since the Great Depression. In 2019, the number reporting food insecurity was 9.1%. This year, 25% said they were unable to provide enough food for themselves and their families. [...]
So many people sought help from the 159 agencies distributing food that the food bank’s network sent out 30% more food in 2020 than the 13.8 million pounds it supplied in 2019, the report said.
As if being unable to feed themselves adequately were not enough, the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey reported that at the end of October, 9.9 million Americans were behind on their mortgage or rental payments and not confident they could make the next payment on time. In some places, families are being ordered to leave their homes despite the moratorium. With the national eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of December along with those unemployment benefits, the number of hungry, homeless people without health care is destined to swell by millions unless the Senate Republicans give up their stubborn resistance to easing the economic pain.
All of which makes Trump’s delight over the Dow’s record-breaking day even more hideous.