Recovery for the wealthy, recession for everyone else

Recovery for the wealthy, recession for everyone else

For rich Americans (which includes the vast majority of Congress), the Covid-19 recession is already over. The stock market is booming, high-wage employment is above pre-pandemic levels and interest rates are at historic lows. For everyone else, however, the recession marches on. America’s low-wage earners face low employment, depleted household savings, looming evictions and little prospect of timely and sufficient federal aid. The Washington Post’s Heather Long reports on the wide and growing gulf that separates wealthy Americans’ rising fortunes from the rest of America’s unaddressed struggles.

Jobs are fully back for the highest wage earners, but fewer than half the jobs lost this spring have returned for those making less than $20 an hour, according to a new labor data analysis by John Friedman, an economics professor at Brown University and co-director of Opportunity Insights. Though recessions almost always hit lower-wage workers the hardest, the pandemic is causing especially large gaps between rich and poor, and between White and minority households. It is also widening the gap between big and small businesses. Some of the largest companies, such as Nike and Best Buy, are enjoying their highest stock prices ever while many smaller businesses fight for survival.


Limited relief for unemployment woes
The Louisiana Workforce Commission reported Thursday that more than 1,500 workers in the restaurant and tourism sector will likely lose their jobs in the coming months. Meanwhile, the Senate has adjourned until September without renewing the $600 expanded unemployment payments that had been keeping families afloat. President Donald Trump’s solution – an executive order that offers Louisiana’s unemployed half of the federal benefits they previously received – pulls money from FEMA’s budget to fund insufficient benefits, just as hurricane season ramps up. | The Advocate’s Sam Karlin has the story on how the current unemployment insurance situation is affecting Louisiana’s unemployed workers:

With historic levels of unemployment and schools reopening on a piecemeal basis, many laid-off workers with children aren’t able to go back to work. And (New Orleans Attorney Wendy) Manard noted many of them have never filed for unemployment before, making the prospect of navigating the bureaucratic red tape daunting. “There are jobs out there but there aren’t as many jobs out there as there were before. It’s a big challenge to a lot of people,” Manard said. “Most people want to go back to work. They want their life to go back to normal. It’s not only a financial benefit, it makes people feel better about themselves if they earn money and are working.”

On Thursday, LBP and our partners at Step Up Louisiana, the Workplace Justice Project and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice delivered a petition to Gov. Edwards and the Workforce Commission, urging Gov. Edwards to rescind work-search requirements that put a paperwork barrier between unemployed people and benefits while few jobs are available. The petition is still open for signatures.


For low income college students, a closed door to food aid
Federal law has long excluded college students from food stamps, on the assumption that many might seem to qualify for the benefit while in fact coming from affluent families. That assumption was never totally correct, and is increasingly out of step with reality: Before the pandemic, 1 in 3 college students was living in or near poverty, and 7 in 10 college students didn’t fit the mold of a traditional, full-time undergraduate, financially dependent on their parents. As Melissa Laska and Sheila Fleischhacker write in The Hill, stringent federal rules and spiking unemployment for young workers have put many students in a bind, and federal action is needed to get them out:

The Emergency Ensuring Access to SNAP Act (EATS) and the End Pandemic Hunger For College Students Act have been recently introduced to ensure low-income college students who meet all other eligibility standards are not denied this vital federal nutrition assistance during this pandemic. Theresa McCormick, the director of programs at Second Harvest Heartland, notes that not only are low-income college students the most affected from the coronavirus school and economic closures, they’ve been largely left out of the emergency responses to the pandemic. Meanwhile, other groups have received the necessary support.


Louisiana farm workers sue for stolen wages
When seasonal farmworkers come to the United States on H-2A guest worker visas, they are supposed to be paid at least the federal minimum wage, to be compensated for transportation to and from their home countries and to get housing and transportation to and from their job sites. But when these workers arrive in the U.S., they are at the mercy of their employers. Now, the Southern Poverty Law Center has filed suit on behalf of Louisiana sugarcane workers who allege that their employers cheated them out of the wages they were promised by changing the terms of their contract after they arrived, paying them less than the federal minimum wage and refusing to pay the transportation costs they’re required to pay. The Counter’s H. Claire Brown has the story:

Norma Ventura, legal fellow at SPLC, says that once the workers arrived in Louisiana, they were told that they’d be paid for planting sugarcane on a per-acre basis, rather than at an hourly rate. To make matters worse, Lowry allegedly failed to reimburse them for travel and visa expenses. All told, the complaint alleges, they sometimes earned less than the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour, for their time.


Number of the Day
57.5% – The proportion of Louisiana households that have responded to invitations to complete the U.S. Census—the 9th lowest self-response rate of all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. The Census Bureau recently moved up the deadline for completing the count by one month, from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30. (Source: Alexandria Town Talk)