How Southern state policymakers can strengthen democracy and protect voter health during the coronavirus pandemic
This is the final installment of a three-part series examining the economic and social conditions that impact health outcomes in Southern states, and how these conditions leave communities underprepared to protect front-line workers and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the earlier pieces of this three-part series, we described what actions are especially needed in Southern states to protect public health and front-line workers and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here we highlight action that is also needed in the South to address the threats the coronavirus poses to participation in our democracy at the expense of voter and poll worker health. The country witnessed this most recently during the Wisconsin presidential primary election last week. As we describe below, Southern states already face significant challenges to democratic participation. The coronavirus pandemic further heightens the need around the country and especially in the South to address longstanding barriers to free and fair elections, an accurate count for the once-a-decade census, and a legislative process that is accountable to the communities elected officials represent.
Free and fair elections and healthy voters
Today, voter suppression, which disproportionately impacts black and brown people, comes in the form of enforcing strict voter identification laws, disenfranchising people with felony convictions, purging registered voters from voter lists, closing polling locations, and failing to provide required language assistance. In Southern states, these barriers are layered on top of the legacy of Jim Crow, which as our colleague Jhacova Williams demonstrates in her research, continues to stifle rates of black voter registration today.
The coronavirus pandemic creates additional barriers, asking voters to choose between protecting their health and their right to participate in our democracy and compromising the health and safety of poll workers during presidential primary as well as state and local elections. Today, progress for fair and accessible election reforms remains mixed. In Kentucky, the legislature overrode a veto by the governor to create a new voter identification law at the worst possible time. On the other hand, Virginia policymakers have enacted the kinds of voting reforms necessary to strengthen democracy in the wake of the crisis.Virginia’s governor recently signed multiple bills that expanded early voting, repealed voter identification laws, made election day a holiday, expanded absentee voting, and implemented automatic voter registration.
Southern state policymakers and election officials have taken some useful steps to protect public health and limit the spread of the coronavirus by postponing elections. For example, though most states in the South have already had their presidential primary elections, officials in states such as Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and West Virginia delayed theirs until June. The North Carolina Board of Elections and Mississippi Governor Reeves postponed congressional runoff elections, and other officials in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas postponed local elections. In Oklahoma, the secretary of state will identify a new deadline for collecting ballot initiative signatures once the governor indicates that the state’s emergency declaration is over.
Access to online learning amid coronavirus is far from universal, and children who are poor suffer from a digital divide
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers, parents, school districts, and communities are doing their best to replace in-person with online learning. But as a recent Washington Post article notes, the move to e-learning prompted by school closures has “exposed the technology divides”—with K–12 students who lack the resources they now need to learn at home facing long-term academic disadvantages.
Although the Post article focused on the digital divide in the District of Columbia, this is a national problem.
EPI analysis of data from the most comprehensive study of primary and secondary education in the country illustrates a widespread digital divide based on family income. The data, from the National Center for Education Statistics’ National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for eighth-graders, show that full access to online learning is far from universal and that students who are poor are less likely to have access to the key tools and experiences they need to attend school online. For example, nearly 16% of eighth-graders overall, and almost a quarter of eighth-graders who are poor, don’t have a desktop or laptop computer at home on which to follow their classes. About 8% of eighth-graders who are not poor lack access to these essential devices. The data also show that low shares of students have teachers with full technological proficiency to teach online. (Poor students are defined as students who are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program.)
Not all students are set up for online learning and students who are poor have less access to key tools: Share of eighth-graders with access to tool for online learning, by income level, 2017
Notes: Poor students are students eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch programs. Non-poor students are students who are ineligible for those programs. Frequent use of internet at home for homework means every day or almost every day. Students’ teachers were either “already proficient” in, “have not” received training in, or “had received training” in “software applications” and “integrating computers into instruction” in the last two years.
Source: 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), eighth-grade reading sample microdata from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics
- Because older workers are more likely to be unemployed for long periods, have work-limiting disabilities, and live in areas of the country that were struggling even before the crisis, policies aimed at addressing these problems will especially benefit these workers.
- While infrastructure spending could help jump-start the post-pandemic recovery, policies must ensure that older workers participate in training and jobs programs related to these investments.
- Regulatory protections for front-line workers, especially older workers and others at heightened risk for contracting or suffering serious consequences from contagious diseases, need to be strengthened and updated using lessons learned from the pandemic.
- Employer-provided benefits result in spotty coverage and higher costs for older workers. The United States should catch up to other countries and provide sick leave, paid family leave, and health insurance through government programs rather than leaving these to the discretion of employers.
(See the companion blog post outlining steps needed to protect vulnerable older workers in the economic collapse caused by measures needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Once the worst of the outbreak is over and social distancing measures are relaxed, policies to help older workers will be needed to ensure they share in the recovery.
Deficit-financed stimulus spending—needed to quickly bring the economy back to something approaching full employment—will help but not ensure broad-based prosperity. Policymakers also need to address power imbalances between employers and workers and target policies at disadvantaged workers, including unemployed older workers.
Older workers, as I discussed in my last blog post, may find it harder to get back in the job market after layoffs for a number of reasons. They may have health conditions that limit what they can do or they may feel forced to accept large pay cuts because some skills and knowledge they’ve built up aren’t transferable and may be undervalued by prospective employers. Absent policies to help these workers regain their footing, they may become “discouraged workers” who give up on the job search and retire before they’re ready to.
This post lays out a series of policies to address barriers to employment for unemployed older workers and to protect older workers from health and financial risks.
Updated state unemployment numbers remain astonishingly high: Six states saw record-high levels of initial unemployment claims last week
This morning, the Department of Labor released the latest initial unemployment insurance (UI) claims data, showing that another five million people (not seasonally adjusted) filed for UI last week. In the last four weeks, more than 20 million workers—whose economic security has been upended by the coronavirus crisis and inadequate policy responses—filed for UI.
Last week, Colorado, New York, South Carolina, Connecticut, Mississippi, and West Virginia saw their highest level of initial UI claim filings ever. These six states, along with Florida, Missouri, and North Carolina, saw increases in initial filings compared with the prior week.
Most states had fewer initial UI claims last week than in the week prior, but the number of UI claims remained astonishingly high. California and Michigan—the two states with the largest decline since the week before—still had 661,000 and 219,000 claims filed last week, respectively—the third-highest week on record for both.
Figure A compares UI claims filed last week with filings in the pre-virus period, showing once again that Southern states are faring particularly poorly. Seven of the 10 states that had the highest percent change last week relative to the pre-virus period are Southern: Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Alabama.
Initial unemployment insurance claims filed during the week ending April 11, by state
|State||Initial claims filed||Percent change from the prior week||Level change from prior week||Percent change from pre-virus period||Level change from pre-virus period||Sum of initial claims for the five weeks ending April 11|
Notes: Initial claims for the week ending April 11 reflect advance state claims, not seasonally adjusted. For comparisons with the “pre-virus period,” we use a four-week average of initial claims for the weeks ending February 15–March 7, 2020.
These estimates were updated on May 14, 2020. See the updated estimates.
We estimate that 9.2 million workers were at high risk of losing their employer-provided health insurance in the past four weeks. To avoid prohibitively costly insurance options, the federal government should fund an expansion of Medicare and Medicaid to all those suffering job losses during the pandemic period.
Two weeks ago, when the two-week total of unemployment insurance (UI) initial claims was 8.7 million, we estimated that 3.5 million workers may have lost their health insurance at work. Since then, 11.4 million more workers filed claims for unemployment benefits, bringing the total of UI initial claims over the last four weeks to 20.1 million, currently the most comprehensive measure of the extent of job losses and furloughs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We estimate that across all industries where workers have filed UI claims, about 45.7% of workers had their own health insurance provided through their employer. As a result, of the 20.1 million workers who filed initial UI claims in the last four weeks, 9.2 million may have lost coverage through their own employer-provided health insurance (EPHI).
The analysis, described below, combines industry-specific UI claims data for 11 states, representing about 20% of national employment, with national, industry-specific health insurance coverage rates. Using these data, we provide a rough prediction of 9.2 million workers losing EPHI. We can’t say exactly how many people will lose insurance coverage altogether for several reasons. For example, some workers who lose EPHI due to layoffs or hours reductions that trigger UI claims may be able to obtain coverage through health care exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or through Medicaid. Some of this group may also be able to obtain continuing coverage through COBRA, paying out of pocket the full cost of their EPHI coverage. Some workers may be able to obtain coverage through other family members, or if only experiencing a temporary furlough or hours reduction, their employers might continue to pay for coverage. On the other hand, our calculations might understate the loss of health insurance coverage because they do not account for family members who are no longer covered because of the policyholder’s layoff. And, because not all layoffs result in UI claims, we will underestimate the actual magnitude of job losses.
Women have been hit hard by the coronavirus labor market: Their story is worse than industry-based data suggest
- The latest payroll employment data for March show that women were the hardest hit by initial job losses in the COVID-19 labor market; women represented 50.0% of payroll employment in February, but represented 58.8% of job losses in March.
- If women’s share of new unemployment insurance (UI) claims in recent weeks was driven solely by sector-level differences in gender composition, then they would have accounted for roughly 45% of new UI claims, or about 6.8 million new claims.
- However, relying solely on the gender composition of sectoral unemployment may lead to an underestimate of new UI claims that were filed by women. Using three states that provide direct estimates of the gender composition of new UI claims shows that the female share of these claims is substantially higher than what we estimate by using only the sectoral composition of employment by gender.
- We estimate that once the overrepresentation of women in sectors with new layoffs is corrected for, between 7.8 and 8.4 million women filed for unemployment insurance in the three weeks ending April 4.
Since March 15, 15.1 million workers in the United States have filed for unemployment insurance. Tomorrow, the latest initial unemployment insurance claims will be released by the Department of Labor for the week ending April 11, and estimates suggest that there could be another 4.5 million initial claims reported. These top-line numbers are vital for understanding what is going on in the economy and the extent of the economic insecurity millions of workers and their families are experiencing. But what is less clear is who these workers are and where they work. While national statistics that directly report the demographic characteristics of UI claimants will not be available for months, we use national employment data from March and preliminary state UI reports through April to begin to answer those questions. We find that job losses and furloughs have disproportionately affected women. This is the result of two factors: Women are more concentrated in sectors that experienced more job loss, and women also tended to see more job loss than men within these sectors.
New survey and report reveals mistreatment of H-2A farmworkers is common: The coronavirus puts them further at risk
The irony should be lost on no one that NPR’s reporting on the Trump administration’s push to lower wages for H-2A farmworkers came out the same week that a new report was published by Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM) that calls into question whether the H-2A temporary work visa program should exist at all without major reforms to protect migrant workers.
The report details the findings of in-depth interviews with 100 H-2A workers, who “reported discrimination, sexual harassment, wage theft, and health and safety violations by their employers—and a chilling lack of recourse.” Every single H-2A worker “experienced at least one serious legal violation of their rights, and 94% experienced three or more.” And before they had even arrived in the United States, many were already heavily in debt as a result of paying illegal recruitment fees in exchange for the opportunity to work in a low-wage farm job.
The Trump administration has weakened crucial worker protections needed to combat the coronavirus: Agencies tasked with protecting workers have put them in danger
- The Department of Labor (DOL) issued a temporary rule that will exempt 96% of applicable firms from providing paid sick and paid family and medical leave to their staff. It could also exempt 9 million health care workers and 4.4 million first responders from receiving paid leave.
- DOL issued guidance that narrows the eligibility of workers to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). For example, gig workers must be “forced to suspend operations” by a government quarantine in order to receive PUA benefits, rather than voluntarily quarantining themselves.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued guidance that will jeopardize the health and safety of workers. The CDC now allows essential workers to continue to work even if they may have been exposed to the coronavirus—as long as they appear to be asymptomatic and the employer implements additional precautions.
- The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) advises that certain businesses are not required to investigate or record workplace-related coronavirus cases. Not only does this guidance make workers less safe, it will likely make the public health crisis worse as employers will not be required to record virus-related illness as officials work to track these cases.
In the last three weeks, an unprecedented 17 million workers applied for unemployment insurance (UI), while millions more risk their lives to provide essential services. To mitigate the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress has passed a series of bills aimed at providing relief and recovery measures. The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFRCA) and the CARES Act included critical provisions to assist workers impacted by the pandemic; chief among those are an expansion of Unemployment Insurance (UI) and access to paid leave. However, rather than working to implement these relief and recovery bills efficiently and effectively, the Trump administration has instead looked for ways to narrow and weaken the worker protections included in the legislation.
Trump administration looking to cut the already low wages of H-2A migrant farmworkers while giving their bosses a multibillion-dollar bailout
- The Trump administration, which recently deemed farmworkers essential to the economy, is considering lowering the wages of the 205,000 migrant farmworkers employed in the United States through the H-2A temporary work visa program, according to published reports.
- H-2A wages are usually based on a mandated wage standard that varies by region—known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR)—aiming to prevent temporary migrant farmworkers from being underpaid according to local standards and to prevent downward pressure on the wages of farmworkers in the United States.
- Farmworkers in general are paid very low wages—in 2019 they earned $13.99 per hour, which is only three-fifths of what production and nonsupervisory workers outside of agriculture earned, and they earned less than what workers with lowest levels of education in the U.S. labor market earned.
- The national average AEWR wage, at $12.96 per hour, was lower than wages for any of these groups of workers, and many H-2A farmworkers earned far less in some of the biggest H-2A states.
- The Trump administration may try to lower the wages of H-2A farmworkers through the regulatory process or a provision attached to a broader piece of legislation.
- This comes at a time when farm owners looking to cut their workers’ wages are on the verge of receiving a federal bailout worth at least $16 billion, which will help cover potential financial losses related to impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, NPR reported that “new White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is working with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to see how to reduce wage rates for foreign guest workers on American farms.” Apparently, the Trump administration believes that temporary migrant farmworkers—who earned between $11.01 and $15.03 per hour in 2019—are overpaid.
Why should migrant farmworkers have to take a pay cut, especially right now, when farmers and ranchers are about to receive at least $16 billion in direct payments thanks to a federal bailout?
This blog post was originally posted on shelterforce.org.
The COVID-19 pandemic will take existing academic achievement differences between middle-class and low-income students and explode them.
The academic achievement gap has bedeviled educators for years. In math and reading, children of college-educated parents score on average at about the 60th percentile, while children whose parents have only a high school diploma score, on average, at the 35th percentile.* The academic advantages of children whose parents have master’s degrees and beyond are even greater.
To a significant extent, this is a neighborhood issue—schools are more segregated today than at any time in the last 50 years, mostly because the neighborhoods in which they are located are so segregated. Schools with concentrated populations of children affected by serious socioeconomic problems are able to devote less time and attention to academic instruction.
In 2001 we adopted the “No Child Left Behind Act,” assuming that these disparities mostly stemmed from schools’ failure to take seriously a responsibility to educate African American, Hispanic, and lower-income students. Supporters claimed that holding educators accountable for test results would soon eliminate the achievement gap. Promoted by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, the theory was ludicrous, and the law failed to fulfill its promise. The achievement gap mostly results from social-class based advantages that some children bring to school and that others lack, as well as disadvantages stemming from racial discrimination that only some children have to face.
The coronavirus, unfortunately, will only exacerbate the effects of these advantages.
Congress should immediately pass legislation protecting workers’ safety during the coronavirus pandemic
- Working people should not have to wait for a fourth recovery bill for vital, lifesaving protections, while corporations have received $450 billion in aid with no strings attached.
- The federal government should take on the role of “payroll of last resort,” as some other nations have done, in order to keep working people on the payroll with access to health care.
- The “phase four” recovery bill should contain enhanced protections for all workers performing essential work during this crisis, such as providing personal protective equipment, hazard pay, whistleblower protections, and bolstered collective bargaining rights.
Since March 8, Congress has passed three bills allocating trillions of dollars to relief and recovery measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. These bills included some important provisions for workers hurt by the pandemic. Chief among those are funding for expanded unemployment insurance, increased access to paid sick leave for some workers, and funding for the airline industry to keep paying workers and covering their benefits. However, direct aid to workers was a small percentage of the overall funding in these relief and recovery measures. Much of the money included in these bills went directly to corporate interests. For example, the CARES Act included $450 billion in aid to impacted firms with virtually no strings attached. Instead of requiring firms receiving this bailout money to maintain pre-pandemic payroll levels, wages, and benefits, the language in the bill requires that such worker protections be provided “to the greatest extent practicable.” This is toothless language that does not require employers to use this taxpayer money to keep workers employed.
The airline industry relief funding was the only example of financial assistance with a serious string attached—requiring relief funds to be used explicitly for the “continuation of payment of employee wages, salaries, and benefits.” However, the Trump administration seems to be playing politics with the implementation of this program. It is unfortunate if not unpredictable that the sole program that provided a subsidy for workers’ wages and benefits is now the source of a political battle that jeopardizes its efficacy.
Twelve years ago, we warned that:
- The increasing dependence of U.S. defense systems on foreign suppliers is alarming, especially, it might be argued, in a post-September 11 world…What happens when supply routes, for example, anywhere across the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, are disrupted?
These warnings could not be more relevant today as we experience devastating disruptions in our supply chains across virtually every industry sector due to the growing COVID-19 crisis. Essential medical supplies are impacted as we struggle to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. commercial industrial base is particularly threatened by excessive reliance on outsourcing without regard to possible downsides. Aerospace, which contributes heavily to gross domestic product (GDP) with almost 500,000 U.S. jobs, has been outsourcing production for many years to repeated protests from the Machinists Union, among others. Fifty years ago, U.S. commercial airplanes were mostly produced in the U.S. Now, a much larger percentage of aircraft is outsourced—with an estimated 70% of the Boeing 787 production being outsourced.
Of course, it is not just aerospace and related products that are outsourced. The U.S. shipbuilding and repair industry has declined dramatically, along with other fundamental industries like machine tools. We are now more dependent on other countries for these items—along with countless others—than ever before.
- The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law last month, and earlier policy responses to the pandemic are steps in the right direction but don’t do enough to protect workers, including older workers, who are at much greater risk from COVID-19.
- Older workers who lose their jobs face harsh consequences. They have less time to make up for lost earnings and savings before retirement. Many have trouble being hired and retire before they’re ready. They’re often forced to accept large pay cuts because some skills and knowledge they’ve built up aren’t transferable and may be undervalued by prospective employers.
- While older workers are less likely to work in the hard-hit leisure and hospitality industries, many are employed in other sectors and occupations that could see large job losses, including public-sector occupations.
- Expanding access to paid sick and family leave is critical to the safety and well-being of older workers and their families, as are stronger health and safety protections for workers.
- The CARES Act makes some necessary changes to paid leave and unemployment insurance programs, but these reforms need to be made permanent or automatically extended as long as economic conditions warrant.
- Older workers with inadequate health and safety protections who stop working because they’re at higher risk of serious consequences from COVID-19 should be eligible for paid leave and unemployment benefits.
- Work-sharing programs that encourage employers to reduce hours rather than resort to layoffs would especially help older workers.
(This is part one of a two-part series of posts on the impact of the coronavirus on older workers and what needs to be done to mitigate the economic shock to this group.)
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law last month, and earlier policy responses to the pandemic are steps in the right direction but don’t do enough to protect workers, including older workers, who are at much greater risk from COVID-19.
Older workers ages 65 and older, though not those ages 55–64, are less likely to be able to work from home than most other workers; only workers ages 15–24 are less able to telecommute. These older workers—many of whom are on the front lines—are at much higher risk of dying or suffering serious consequences from COVID-19 than their younger counterparts.
Personal care aides are among the low-paid and high-risk occupations with a disproportionate share of older workers (personal care aides are also overwhelmingly women and disproportionately people of color and immigrants). Older workers are also somewhat more likely than their younger counterparts to be employed in hospitals and nursing homes. (Unless otherwise noted, all references to older workers’ employment shares are based on the author’s analysis of 2015–2017 American Community Survey microdata for workers ages 55–64.)
The federal response to the pandemic has so far done little to protect the health of older workers and others facing greater risk from exposure to the virus, who are faced with a daily choice between risking their lives and losing their livelihoods. Low-paid workers in particular are not only less able to work from home, they’re also more likely to rely on public transportation and share close living quarters, heightening the risk of contagion for themselves and their families.
The next coronavirus relief package must include funding to safeguard our democracy: Voting by mail and online voting must be considered
An essential component of any “phase four” coronavirus relief and recovery package must be additional investments to protect our right to vote. Lawmakers must act now to establish safe, alternative voting methods—like vote-by-mail and online voting—especially before November’s general election.
The CARES Act included $400 million in “election security grants” to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus domestically for the 2020 federal election cycle. This is far less than fair election advocates argued was necessary to protect our elections during the pandemic. The Brennan Center for Justice, for example, released a plan calling for a $2 billion investment to ensure that the 2020 election is free, fair, accessible, and secure.
As more states explore alternative ways of casting ballots, Congress must provide resources responsive to the magnitude of the challenge. A failure to provide sufficient investments to safeguard elections is the most successful effort at voter suppression and disenfranchisement since the expansion of the franchise. We must demand investment in our democracy infrastructure and more voting options.
States continue to see record-high levels of initial unemployment insurance claims, including in the South
- Twenty-eight states had record numbers of unemployment insurance (UI) filings last week. The remaining states had their record high in one of the previous two weeks.
- California, Georgia, Michigan, New York, and Texas had the most claims last week.
- Southern states didn’t initially lose jobs as quickly as other states, because they were slow to implement social distancing measures. Now, however, they are experiencing this unprecedented job loss particularly acutely.
- The federal government should take on the costs of keeping workers on the payroll and provide substantially more funding to state and local governments.
Another 6.6 million people filed initial unemployment insurance (UI) claims last week, continuing the upending of the labor market we have seen in response to the coronavirus pandemic. According to seasonally adjusted data released yesterday morning by the Department of Labor, over the last three weeks, 16.8 million—over one in 10—workers have filed for UI. As the labor market is disrupted, so are the lives of millions of workers across the country.
Last week, 28 states saw a record number of initial UI filings, with the rest of the states experiencing their high point during one of the prior two weeks. While many states saw a slight decline in UI claims compared with the prior week, the number of claims filed this week is still staggeringly high. In the four weeks between March 7 and April 4, over two million Californians and one million Pennsylvanians filed UI claims.
At least $500 billion more in coronavirus aid is needed for state and local governments by the end of 2021
- States and localities are already announcing severe budget shortfalls due to the coronavirus shock.
- The recently passed CARES Act allocated $150 billion to help state and local governments respond to the coronavirus, but this amount does not come close to what’s needed.
- We estimate that at least $500 billion more aid will be needed by the end of 2021 to prevent state and local budget cuts that hamper the economy after the public health crisis ends.
Congress has provided multiple rounds of relief to state and local governments in legislation responding to the economic shock of the coronavirus, but much more will be needed by these governments in coming years. We estimate that roughly $500 billion more will be needed by the end of 2021 to keep state and local governments from becoming a significant drag on economic recovery after the public health crisis passes.
The recently passed CARES Act allocated $150 billion to help state and local governments grapple with the costs of responding to COVID-19. But this amount does not come close to what is needed to address the severity and likely duration of the public health and economic crises. As economic activity has collapsed, it has triggered a dramatic downturn in state and local revenues even apart from new spending demands imposed by the coronavirus. Unlike the federal government, most state governments are required by law or constitution to balance their budgets. As revenues decline because of lower incomes and reduced spending, state and local governments face serious fiscal constraints, often leading to budget cuts that further depress demand in the economy.
Already, states and localities are announcing austerity measures and severe budget shortfalls exactly when public spending is most critical—both for protecting workers and for priming the economy for a rapid bounceback when the shutdown ends. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has proposed an across-the-board 20% budget cut; New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimated tax revenue would be between $4 billion and $7 billion below projections for fiscal year 2020; Arkansas’s projected revenue decline is more than double the size of the state’s reserves; and California is projected to spend down its sizable cash reserves in mere months, despite previously being on track to build the largest cash reserve in its history of more than $20 billion.
Local governments are announcing severe revenue shortfalls, too: This week, Arlington County, Virginia, announced a shortfall of $56 million for FY 2021, and cities like Seattle and New Orleans are each projecting shortfalls of at least $100 million this year.
Clearly, the aid to state and local governments passed so far is not sufficient, and we estimate that at least $500 billion will be needed by the end of 2021. Here’s how we got to this number.
How can the U.S. get more transformative with its coronavirus-shock response? With payroll guarantees and an economic ‘deep freeze’ plan.
Since March 8, Congress has passed three bills to provide resources for health care and economic relief and recovery in response to the shock of the coronavirus. Yet more remains to be done. We should continue to make marginal improvements on the existing framework of response, but we should also think about how to move our policy response closer to the international best practices established by other countries.
At the heart of those best practices are payroll guarantees and a willingness to “deep freeze” the economy.
Other nations have shown greater social solidarity and a much keener recognition of just how different the coronavirus shock is from previous recessions. In essence, the public health response to the coronavirus has mandated an economic “sudden stop.” The challenge is giving households and businesses resources to live on during the shutdown (relief), while making an economic bounceback once the all-clear sounds as fast as possible (recovery).
One key ingredient in fostering a rapid recovery is preserving labor market matches between workers and their employers and allowing employers to continue paying fixed nonlabor costs during the shutdown period.
Domestic workers are at risk during the coronavirus crisis: Data show most domestic workers are black, Hispanic, or Asian women
The coronavirus pandemic is placing the nation’s 2.2 million domestic workers—91.5% of whom are women—in a particularly precarious position. Steep declines in work are leading to a devastating loss of income while a lack of protective equipment for those who still work is a real threat to their health. This blog post provides details on who domestic workers are and where they live.
Domestic workers, whose worksites are private homes, have always faced unique challenges and have seen their work undervalued. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, this already-vulnerable group is placed in a particularly precarious position. Many domestic workers are experiencing a steep decline in work. According to new data from the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), just over half (52%) of domestic workers surveyed said they had no job for the week beginning March 30—and that share increased to 68% by the next week. Domestic workers face long-term uncertainty, with 66% reporting that they are unsure if their clients will give them their jobs back after the pandemic. The decline in employment for domestic workers represents a significant loss of income for these workers and their families.
Domestic workers who are still on the front lines risk sacrificing their health for economic security. House cleaners—who help families follow the practices advocated by public health officials to help to prevent the spread of disease—and home care aides—who care for sick, disabled, and elderly people—may lack the protective equipment they need. Certain groups of domestic workers are excluded from basic labor protections, including those guaranteed under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Family Medical Leave Act, which are particularly important sets of protections for workers in the midst of a pandemic.
Wisconsin’s election during this pandemic shows that limiting voting options is the new form of voter suppression
In an unprecedented ruling Monday night, the United States Supreme Court voted to allow Wisconsin’s primary election to occur as scheduled, even as nearly a dozen other states have postponed their primaries due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Today, as voting is happening, Wisconsin has almost 2,500 reported cases of the coronavirus and is under a “safer at home” order that Democratic Governor Tony Evers issued on March 25. It orders Wisconsin residents to stay at home unless engaged in an essential activity.
After a lengthy battle between the state’s Democratic governor, the Republican-controlled legislature, and the judiciary branch on whether or not to postpone the election and extend absentee ballot deadlines, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision left Wisconsin voters with a difficult choice: stay safely at home or risk getting sick and waiting in long lines to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
This choice was particularly cruel for voters in Wisconsin’s largest and most diverse city, Milwaukee. There, so few poll workers signed up to work that the city was able to open only five polling locations, instead of the usual 180. In a city of around 600,000 residents, opening only a handful of polling locations led to extremely long lines that wrapped around city blocks and forced people to wait for hours.
Unfortunately, Milwaukee is used to this type of voter suppression.
Since 2011, Wisconsin has had one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, requiring residents to have a current address on their identification. This disproportionately hurts voters in urban parts of the state, like Milwaukee County, which has one of the highest eviction rates in the state, making it harder for residents to keep a current address on their ID. In fact, research by the University of Wisconsin found that 17,000 Wisconsin voters were kept from the polls in 2016 because of the strict voter ID law.
A ‘phase four’ relief and recovery package should provide economic assistance to state and local governments, extended unemployment benefits, and better protections for workers and jobs
A “phase four” coronavirus recovery and relief package must be passed quickly and must be sufficient in scope and magnitude to address the severity of the economic and public health crisis we are experiencing. The package must include:
- More aid to state and local governments
- Extended unemployment insurance benefits
- Another direct cash payment to households
- Better protection for workers and jobs
- Full funding for coronavirus testing, treatment, and front-line worker personal protective equipment (PPE)
In the last two weeks, nearly 10 million people applied for unemployment insurance. The March jobs report revealed a loss of 701,000 jobs—the first monthly job loss in nearly 10 years and already one of the worst monthly losses on record. Further, March’s job loss numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, as they do not capture the entire month of March, but refer only to the payroll period containing March 12, before the shutdowns accelerated significantly.
How policymakers respond now will determine the level of pain working families experience and the speed at which the economy can get back on track after the shutdown period is over. The relief and recovery packages passed since the crisis began included many good measures, but they are still too little and some provisions in these packages represent policy missteps. More relief and recovery aid will certainly be needed.
The biggest misstep taken in the earlier relief and recovery packages was allocating so much of the aid to financial rescues of large firms with insufficient conditions to ensure that jobs and wages of workers were saved. Policymakers approved over $450 billion in direct fiscal aid to this effort, with more potentially forthcoming in subsidized loans from the Federal Reserve. Yet this aid (apart from the stronger stipulations for the airline industry) is largely not tied to preserving rank-and-file workers on payrolls.
Another large tranche of aid ($350 billion) was better targeted in preserving the payroll of small firms. But this aid will likely underperform in actually saving jobs because the administrative capacity of the Small Business Administration and banks servicing small and medium-sized firms are too poor to ensure the full amount of aid reaches employers and preserves payroll.
These two tranches of aid could have been bundled and made into more direct and better administered financial relief that hinged entirely on the willingness of employers to preserve workers on payroll with the federal government financing their pay during the shutdown. This would have allowed workers to remain in the jobs they held before the coronavirus shock, and this would have helped ensure a rapid economic recovery once the public health crisis had subsided.
Even with already-passed relief and recovery measures, job losses from the coronavirus shock could easily exceed 20 million
This blog post is based on a particular GDP forecast from 3/31. If new and substantially different forecasts are released, we will update these numbers.
The effect of the novel coronavirus and the public health measures enacted to slow its spread—particularly “social distancing”—have been profound for economic activity in the United States. We have already seen some of the leading edge of this effect in recent data releases. This post highlights some recent forecasts of the effects of the coronavirus shock on measures of economic activity, and what these contractions in economic activity mean for jobs. Its key findings are:
- Forecasts of the size of the drag on growth imposed by the coronavirus (and associated public health measures) have risen rapidly in recent weeks.
- Currently, forecasts indicate that gross domestic product (GDP) will be roughly 12.8% smaller by the end of June 2020 due to coronavirus effects—an extraordinarily fast economic collapse.
- To return to pre-shock economic health by the middle of 2021, at least $1.4 trillion in additional recovery spending would be needed—with $2 trillion being a more prudent target.
- A contraction this rapid would be consistent with job loss of roughly 19.8 million by the end of June 2020.
- This estimate of 19.8 million jobs lost could be too high or too low, for a number of reasons. For example, employers could reduce hours instead of laying off workers, and policies to keep workers on the payroll may be effective, keeping job losses down. Or coronavirus effects may be concentrated in relatively labor-intensive industries, so employment might actually fall faster than GDP. A plausible range is between 18 and 28 million jobs lost.
On March 15, Goldman Sachs forecast that GDP would contract at a 5% annualized rate in the second quarter of 2020. On March 20, their forecast jumped to 24% annualized contraction. And on March 31, their forecast for second quarter contraction grew to 34%. This pattern of rapid deterioration in projected coronavirus-related contraction has been true across literally every other forecaster. The logic of these forecasts of rapid and historically large collapses in GDP is easy to see. Even a 5% across-the-board contraction in consumer spending over a short period of time (say because a housing price bubble popped) can send the economy into a steep recession. But the coronavirus is causing well over half of all economic activity in some major sectors to stop dead. For example, accommodations and food service by itself accounts for 14% of all consumer spending. If economic activity in just this sector is cut in half, this alone can drive a steep recession. But, of course, other sectors are also affected and contraction in some sectors will be well over 50%.Read more
This week, President Trump announced he’s essentially putting an order for critically needed surgical gowns on layaway at Walmart despite urgent demand.
At a coronavirus task force briefing on Wednesday, Trump said he was placing a “very, very, big” order for gowns with Walmart CEO Doug McMillon. But it turns out that the gowns—which are part of vital personal protective equipment known as PPE—aren’t actually available right now.
A Walmart spokesperson said the company would have to “delve into its sprawling global supply chain to identify a company to make an undisclosed number of gowns.”
Why is the president placing orders through retailers—if they can’t quickly fill such needed requisitions?
The answer is that Trump is touting corporate partnerships in a display that’s more showmanship than substance. And at the same time, he’s refusing to fully invoke a longstanding law, the Defense Production Act (DPA), that could help close serious PPE shortfalls.
If Trump invoked the DPA, key agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) would start issuing federal contracts for all available supplies of PPE, ventilators, and other needed equipment. And they could distribute those supplies to the areas of greatest need.
However, Trump appears to not trust DOD or FEMA to manage production of critically needed medical supplies and equipment. Instead, he’s doling out contracts one at a time—and apparently picking fights with favorite villains, like General Motors CEO Mary Barra. Read more
The South’s worst unemployment numbers may be yet to come given social distancing delays in the region
The first set of data on unemployment insurance claims amid the coronavirus pandemic were unprecedented, but the hardest-hit areas were not generally states in the South. A second week of data shows a portrait of a disaster, with 6.6 million people filing for unemployment insurance (UI) in the week ending March 28. Every single state has now reported a record number of claims during one of those two weeks.
Some Southern states were particularly hard hit, with North Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana all ranking among the five states with the largest two-week percent increase in UI claims. But since the most recent data is from the week ending March 28, the greatest spike in the South’s unemployment may be yet to come. That’s because there is strong evidence that much of the South (and broad swaths of the West) was not engaging in widespread social distancing by that week.
Many Southern policymakers were slow to accept that stopping the pandemic required social distancing, closing schools and nonessential businesses, and limiting public gatherings. Stay-at-home orders have only begun to ramp up in Southern states in recent days, and some Southern states still don’t have them. For many businesses, layoffs and closures will take place only as these necessary public health measures are implemented and the general public follows suit. Some of the Southern states that saw the largest increases in unemployment claims for the week ending March 28 were those that instituted stay-at-home orders earlier than others, like Kentucky and Louisiana. This suggests that the largest unemployment claims in many Southern states have yet to materialize.
Attorneys general (AGs) in some states are:
- Protecting nonessential workers from the risks of contracting COVID-19 by enforcing or leading implementation of stay-at-home orders.
- Ensuring that workers who are misclassified as independent contractors can access the unemployment insurance and paid leave they are entitled to.
- Protecting employees from losing unpaid wages.
- Protecting workers seeking safe working conditions.
- Providing clear and accessible public information about workers’ rights and legal protections.
Much of the coverage of state attorneys general work during the coronavirus crisis has focused on consumer protection, but many state AGs—even those without dedicated workers’ rights units—are helping protect workers facing unprecedented challenges.
These efforts come in the midst of a general increase over the past several years in state attorney general activity to enforce labor laws and advocate for workers.
Five years ago, only three state AG offices had dedicated workers’ rights units: California, Massachusetts, and New York. Since then, six other AGs have created workers’ rights units: the AGs of the District of Columbia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania). Other state AG offices, even without dedicated bureaus or divisions, have also become more involved in worker issues in recent years. With or without dedicated worker rights units, state AGs have a range of powers that enable them to advance workplace protections.
Workers’ needs during the coronavirus crisis are urgent and stark. Some workers who are not essential are being required to work despite state or local stay-at-home orders. Other workers who are unquestionably essential are working without adequate protection.
A record number of workers have lost their jobs; among them are workers who have been misclassified as independent contractors and will struggle to get unemployment insurance they’re entitled to. And workers may require enforcement in order to access any legally required paid sick or family leave. On top of these challenges, there is a serious dearth of readily accessible public information about workers’ rights and legal protections, particularly in light of the rapidly changing legal landscape.
Higher rates of poverty and incarceration put front-line workers and communities in Southern states at greater risk from the coronavirus
This piece is the second in a three-part series examining the economic and social conditions that impact health outcomes in Southern states, and how these conditions leave communities underprepared to protect front-line workers and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Poverty rates tend to be higher in Southern states. State policymakers should increase aid to social services and increase benefit amounts for direct income support programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).
- Incarceration rates are highest in the South, and people who are incarcerated face greater health risks from the coronavirus. Many options are available to state and local policymakers to protect the health and safety of people who are incarcerated, including offering necessary medical care and supplies at no cost and prioritizing people for release.
- Several states in the South have some of the lowest unemployment insurance recipiency rates in the country. State policymakers must do more to bolster and expand access to an already strained unemployment insurance system.
In our earlier post, we described how Southern state lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid, implement paid sick leave policies, allocate sufficient public health resources, and quickly adopt social distancing practices put the health of many workers and families at risk from COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic is also causing an extraordinary economic crisis that is projected to disproportionately harm Southern states because retail, leisure, and hospitality make up higher-than-average shares of total private-sector employment in almost all Southern states. That’s a key reason why average wages in the South are lower than the rest of the country, and this economic crisis will hit low-wage workers first and hardest.
There are many actions state and local policymakers can take to mitigate economic harm and target responses effectively to provide relief to impacted communities. This includes strengthening unemployment insurance, increasing basic needs assistance, and addressing racial, gender, and additional equity concerns.
Every state in the country reported its highest initial unemployment claims ever either last week or the week before
This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor released the latest initial unemployment insurance claims data, showing another unprecedented spike. Nearly 10 million people across the country filed for unemployment insurance (UI) in the past two weeks: 3.3 million filed for unemployment in the week ending March 21, and another 6.6 million filed in the week ending March 28. For comparison, 282,000 claims were filed during the week ending March 14 when we were just starting to see the economic effects of the coronavirus. This greatly outnumbers the number of claims filed during any week since this data has been collected, including during the Great Recession.
The map in Figure A shows each state’s percentage change in “advance” initial unemployment claims for the week ending March 28 relative to the week ending March 14. Initial claims for the past week were unprecedented in virtually every state. The largest percentage increase occurred in Michigan, where the 311,000 new initial claims equaled a 5,728% increase over the number of initial claims filed in the week ending March 14. The smallest percentage increase was in Wyoming, where 4,675 new claims were filed—an 804% increase over the number of claims filed the week ending March 14, and still the largest number of claims ever filed in Wyoming. In fact, every state in the country reported its highest initial claims ever either last week or the week before.
That’s it. The Trump appointees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) need to be removed for neglect of duty and malfeasance—now.
The latest outrage? Yesterday, the Trump board added to its long and growing list of anti-worker, anti-union actions, issuing new rules that undermine the longstanding practice of voluntary recognition, by which employers agree to recognize and bargain with a union when a majority of employees sign cards saying they want a union. The Trump board is now requiring these employers to post a notice telling workers they can file a petition and have an election to get rid of the union—the very same union that a majority of workers have just chosen. And the new rules call for running union elections and counting ballots even when charges have been filed alleging that an employer has engaged in illegal unfair labor practices that have tainted the election. In an Orwellian twist, the Trump board calls these new rules, which undermine workers’ ability to form and keep their unions, rules to “Protect Employee Free Choice.”
What makes this latest action so egregious and outrageous is that it is happening at the very same time that the Trump board had unilaterally halted all elections by workers seeking to form unions. Thousands of workers who were poised to vote on forming unions have had their elections cancelled—even though the elections could be held by U.S. mail, whose employees are courageously keeping the Postal Service going. Instead, workers are left without a voice, and the Trump NLRB has done nothing to discourage or prohibit employers from running anti-union campaigns while workers are left in the lurch.Read more