Super-sized Unemployment Benefits are Essential in a Depression

Ideas and Issues
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New Orleans      Congress is going back to work.  High on the agenda with the clock ticking is the next stimulus bill.  Some things are clear.  Mainly that the US economy is on its knees.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • 20 million people are unemployed.
  • For the 13th consecutive week, more than one-million people have applied for unemployed.
  • The level of unemployment has been greater than any time since the Great Depression, and is still over 11% with some cities over 25%.
  • More than six million people have applied for food stamps in the last three months.There are now more than one out of every eight Americans on food stamps.
  • More than 10% of Americans are now suffering from food insecurity.
  • Eviction suspensions are expiring.In Louisiana for example a $24 million program designed to pay three months of rent directly to landlords for 10,000 people had to be suspended four days after applications opened when 40,000 applied.
  • Almost half of the states report cases and deaths rising from the coronavirus.
  • Governors, both red and blue, are rolling back re-openings, requiring masks, shutting down bars, and limiting in-door seating and large gatherings.

I could go on, but the message is clear to everyone but the president:  we’re in the dumps!  Even Treasury Secretary Mnuchin says we need more stimulus.  Even Senate Majority Leader McConnell is now saying “wear a mask,” and agreeing that more stimulus is needed, even if his priority is protecting businesses, schools, and others from liability suits.

Let’s be clear.  One piece in the next stimulus needs to get done by August 1st, and that’s extending unemployment relief.  There are 5 million open jobs according to the feds for 20 million unemployed.  Pretending everyone can go back to work, pay bills, and eat is absurd.

The last supersized unemployment worked.

I know that’s scary to a lot of businesses and politicians around the country.  People might be getting used to not being forced to live in shame and misery.  Businesses in the recovery may not be able to pay people the minimum wage, frozen for more than a decade, to get people back to work.  A University of Chicago study found that 68% of unemployed workers who are eligible for benefits receive more in jobless payments than their lost earnings – with the median payment 34% more than their former weekly paychecks.

Early reports indicated that there might be a compromise at adding $250 per week, rather than $600, and tacking on a bonus, perhaps $1000, for someone as a going-back-to-work bonus.  There’s also talk about another stimulus check like that last one of up to $1200 coming to everyone.

That was then, but now is now.  There may not be the political will to keep adding $600, but if people are going to eat and pay rent, it needs to be $400 or $500, not $250.  A reemployment bonus is meaningless, because businesses are shutting and a wave of bankruptcies are expected, so a bonus is just blank paper when there isn’t a job.  Another stimulus check, right on!

None of this has gotten better, and increasingly it looks like there’s worse in store.  Congress needs to step up its game and put money where their mouths are and stop playing high-low bargaining with desperate families throughout the country.