Supplemental Unemployment is the Best Thing about the Pandemic

Citizen Wealth Financial Justice
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New Orleans      What could possibly be good about a pandemic?  OK, not much, but…there are some things that have turned out to be a complete win.  The one that I hear over and over again is the huge benefits that supplemental unemployment has brought to people who were underemployed or unemployed.  For many, it has been seriously life changing.

Losing your job is terrible.  Cobbling together low wage jobs is a horror.  In the best of times looking for work is painful and depressing.  No way to put sugar in that coffee.  Worries about the future remain ever present.

At the same time, especially for lower waged workers, $600 supplemental unemployment in addition to whatever regular unemployment workers were entitled to receive, coupled with a stimulus check, has taken huge weight off of many workers and opened doors for others.  The examples I’ve seen are endless.

  • Workers feel they have the security to actually volunteer in their communities, take on projects and passions that might lead to work or initiatives later. I know people who have found a niche in delivering supplies in the pandemic, created database tools for research, and have been able to protect their small businesses with the additional governmental support.
  • Some workers are making more until July 31st than they have ever made allowing them real comfort as well as creating leverage because of their current status on employers to increase wages to keep staff, especially essential workers.
  • Some workers have used the supplemental pay to finally take a breath, spend time with family, exercise, garden, and think about the future.  I talked to a woman on the phone last night who was almost giddy in describing what the increased financial security had meant to her life and thinking about the future.

Many Republican senators are saying that an extension of supplemental pay will happen essentially over their dead bodies.  Electorally speaking, they should be careful, because people are trying it, and they are liking it.  I’m betting this kind of subsidy and its popularity, despite the pandemic, is not going to disappear, but will evolve into increased support for guaranteed annual income, and, just maybe, I’m hoping for a re-evaluation of our welfare programs, though admittedly that is less likely.

Here’s another benefit that no doubt has conservatives grinding their teeth in despair.  The supplemental unemployment has provided sustenance for activism.  Without a doubt we see some more marginally employed progressives taking full advantage of this income insecurity to increase their commitments and involvement.  A more granular study than my anecdotal reflections, I would bet would find that this income security has helped provide part of the infrastructure for marches and protests in the current movements against racism and police brutality that would normally have been difficult without more direct organizational participation and involvement.  On the other side of the coin, landlords are receiving more rent because of the supplemental unemployment, grocery stores are selling more food, and home repair outfits are bursting at the seams to keep up with DYI projects.

This is the silver lining of the pandemic, literally.