Category Archives: Financial Justice

Supplemental Unemployment is the Best Thing about the Pandemic

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.


The Robots are Coming and Jobs are Disappearing

Pearl River     We all wonder what the world of life and work is going to look like at the end of this 2020 Great Depression under the helm of the modern-day Herbert Hoover.   Just as an aside, perhaps every one-hundred years Americans need to be reminded the hard way that electing a businessman is a big, whooping mistake!  Of course, none of us really know, but the takeaways from this disaster are starting to be clearer.

One thing that I think is probably a very safe bet is that the robots are going to be coming by the millions, especially in big time manufacturing.  They don’t catch viruses.  They could care less about social spacing.  They are already there in huge numbers, and they and their management overlords will be calling for their duplicates.  Companies in serious manufacturing are undoubtedly having Zoom calls now and crunching the numbers on the retrofit costs of preparing to reopen more safely now versus the cost of going large on more robots as soon as possible in order to not have to shutdown the next time a virus comes, since we all now know, if we didn’t before, that it’s just a matter of time before the next one arrives.

I listened to the Sheriff of Black Hawk County in Iowa being interviewed by a local public radio station in that area.  The huge Waterloo Tyson pork packing plant in his area has thousands of workers.  He and his team inspected the plant in March, when there was no doubt that the coronavirus was among us.  They were dumbstruck by how tightly packed the workers were on the line and how little Tyson had done to prepare for the pandemic.  A month later the plant was closed and there were more than 1000 confirmed cases of covid-19 among the workforce.  Tyson accounted for 90% of the cases in Black Hawk County.  The sheriff, the union, and Tyson are now reopening and in the latest inspection that are touting themselves as best-in-class with plexiglass shields everywhere, sanitizer stations all over, and more.  We can call that progress, and we should.

At the same time, it is easy to see the writing on the wall. Weeks with the plant closed.  Big expenditures made on health and safety protection.  A largely immigrant workforce in a country that is trying to restrict immigration any way it can.  If there isn’t a robot that can do a lot of this kind of work, you know Tyson is looking for one, and working the calculator to establish that on the long turn it’s easier to maintain a robot than to keep workers on the line.

They aren’t alone.  Even on the domestic side, I would bet robo-cleaners like Romba and anything else that can replace cleaners will increase.  Hospitals will be looking to automate wherever they can.  More restaurants, coffeeshops, and food service won’t be opening without takeout windows.  You have to wonder if automats won’t make a comeback, where you reach into a glass window for your whatever.  Maybe we will be like Japan with multi-purpose vending machines everywhere.

The one thing that will be certain is that business will be working overtime after the pandemic to figure out a way to replace labor and use fewer workers.  Getting out of this depression could be harder when business sees the solution as fewer jobs.