Unemployment Benefits, Stimulus Checks, And State And City Aid Needed As Economy Slows

Nearly half of Americans whose families experienced a layoff during the coronavirus pandemic now believe those jobs are lost forever, a new poll shows, as temporary cutbacks give way to shuttered businesses, bankruptcies, and lasting payroll cuts.
It’s a sharp change after initial optimism the jobs would return. In April, 78% of those in households with a job loss thought they’d be temporary. Now, 47% think that lost job is definitely or probably not coming back, according to the latest poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
That translates into roughly 10 million workers who will need to find a new employer, if not a new occupation.
The poll is the latest sign the solid hiring of May and June, as some states lifted stay-at-home orders and the economy began to recover, may wane as the year goes on. Adding to the challenge: many students will begin the school-year online, making it harder for parents to take jobs outside their homes.
“Honestly, at this point, there’s not going to be a job to go back to,” said Tonica Daley, 35, who lives in Riverside, California, and has four children ranging from 3 to 18 years old. “The kids are going to do virtual school, and there is no daycare.”
Daley was furloughed from her job as a manager at J.C. Penney, which has filed for bankruptcy protection. The extra $600 a week in jobless benefits Congress provided as part of the federal government’s coronavirus relief efforts let her family pay down its credit cards, she said, but the potential expiration or reduction of those benefits in August would force her to borrow money to get by.
The economy’s recovery has shown signs of stalling amid a resurgence of the coronavirus. The number of laid-off workers seeking jobless benefits rose last week for the first time since March, while the number of U.S. infections shot past 4 million — with many more cases undetected.
The poll shows that 72% of Americans would rather have restrictions in place in their communities to stop the spread of COVID-19 than remove them in an effort to help the economy. Just 27% want to prioritize the economy over efforts to stop the outbreak.
“The only real end to this pandemic problem is the successful application of vaccines,” said Fred Folkman, 82, a business professor from Long Island, in New York.
About 9 in 10 Democrats prioritize stopping the virus, while Republicans are more evenly divided — 46% focus on stopping the spread, while 53% say the economy is the bigger priority.
President Donald Trump and Congress have yet to agree to a new aid package. Democrats, who control the House, have championed an additional $3 trillion in help, including money for state and local governments. Republicans, who control the Senate, have proposed $1 trillion, decreasing the size of the expanded unemployment benefits.
Overall, about half of Americans say they or someone in their household has lost some kind of income over the course of the pandemic. That includes 27% who say someone has been laid off, 33% been scheduled for fewer hours, 24% taken unpaid time off and 29% had wages or salaries reduced.
Eighteen percent of those who lost a household job now say it has come back, while another 34% still expect it to return.
The poll continues to show the pandemic’s disparate impact. About 6 in 10 nonwhite Americans say they’ve lost a source of household income, compared with about half of white Americans. Forty-six percent of those with college degrees say they’ve lost some form of household income, compared with 56% of those without.
Trump’s approval rating on handling the economy stands at 48%, consistent with where it stood a month ago but down from January and March when 56% said they approved. Still, the economy remains Trump’s strongest issue. Working to Trump’s advantage, 88% of Republicans — including 85% of those whose households have lost income during the pandemic — approve of his handling of the economy. Eighty-two percent of Democrats disapprove.
“A lot of people criticize our president, but he’s a cheerleader,” said Jim Russ, 74, a retired state worker from Austin, Texas. “As long as we keep that, the American public will think positively and look positive.”
The poll finds that 38% of Americans think the national economy is good. That’s about the same as in June and up from 29% in May but far below the 67% who felt that way in January.
Sixty-four percent of Republicans think the economy is good, compared with 19% of Democrats. Likewise, 59% of Republicans expect the economy to improve in the next year, while Democrats are more likely to expect it to worsen than improve, 47% to 29%.
Sixty-five percent of Americans also call their personal financial situation good. That’s about the same as it’s been throughout the pandemic and before the crisis began. Still, Americans are slightly less likely than they were a month ago to expect their personal financial situation to improve in the next year. Thirty-three percent say that now after 38% said so a month ago. Another 16% expect their finances to worsen, while 51% expect no changes.
So much of what happens in the economy will depend on the trajectory of the virus, said Danny Vaughn, 72, from Dade City, Florida.
“I don’t disagree with everything the president does, but his leadership on the coronavirus issue has been lacking,” Vaughn said. “And that’s the number one issue facing the American people right now.”
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The AP-NORC poll of 1,057 adults was conducted July 16-20 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
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Online:
AP-NORC Center: http://www.apnorc.org/.
New economic data show a growth slowdown, underscoring the need for another stimulus package. But intra-party fights among Republican Senators regarding deficit spending are slowing the legislation and will make the overall bill smaller than it should be.
After months of denial and delay by Senate Republicans, Congress is now fighting over the next economic stimulus.  Three big spending items—supplemental payments on unemployment insurance, another round of household stimulus checks, and major aid to states and cities—are causing major fights, not only between parties but within the Republican Party itself.  Solving the internal party battle is key to getting this necessary aid out to boost the economy.
Make no mistake, the economy needs help.  On Thursday, new weekly unemployment claims data provided more bad news, rising for the first time in almost four months and indicating a softening job market.  Of course, claims all along have been showing that the economy is in deep trouble.  Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute reminds us this is “the 18th week in a row that unemployment claims have been more than twice the worst week of the Great Recession.”
    Although overall job losses may be stabilizing (although at a high level), economists Ernie Tedeschi and Quoctrung Bu find that layoffs for Black and Latinx workers are increasing, shifting the labor market burden even more to these lower-paid and more vulnerable workers.
    Other data also point to growing economic weakness.  After three months of steady growth in shift work, Kronos Incorporated, a major supplier of workforce management software, reports a “modest” slowdown in shifts at businesses for the week of July 6-12.  They note “this marks the first non-holiday week” with a slowdown “since the recovery began in earnest the week ending April 12.”  
    As economist Teresa Ghilarducci noted in Forbes, “We can reopen and kill people, but that would be a dumb reopening.”  And like many other economists, Harvard’s Raj Chetty and his colleagues at Opportunity Insights argue that “the only way to drive economic recovery is to invest in public health efforts that will restore consumer confidence and spending.” But many states and the federal government have been dumb so far, and we are now paying the price, both in public health and in an economic slowdown.
    Faced with this troubled economy, why hasn’t Congress—more specifically, the Senate—moved faster? After all, in May the House of Representatives passed a major new stimulus bill, the HEROES Act.  It authorizes almost $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments, an extension of the $600 weekly supplement to unemployment insurance, and a new round of household stimulus checks, among other provisions.
    But the Senate—specifically the Republican majority—has held things up, hoping an economic turnaround would obviate the need for further deficit spending.  In May, Senate Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the HEROES Act was “dead on arrival.”  But continuing economic weakness (and negative Republican election poll numbers) have brought some elements of HEROES back to life.
    McConnell now supports another round of household stimulus checks, some unemployment insurance supplement (which may settle around $400 per week, not the expiring $600), aid to state and local governments, and other spending, including K-12 education.  Republicans also want a liability waiver protecting businesses from Covid-19 related lawsuits, especially from employees who get sick on the job.  And both parties are rejecting a payroll tax cut, widely seen as ineffective by economists, even though President Trump had been insisting on one.
    Of course, politics is never absent from Congress, and Senate Republicans are fighting with each other about how much spending to authorize.  Even though we are still months away from the 2020 election, reports indicate that Senators considering a 2024 presidential run already are jockeying with each other over debt and deficits.  
    But something will be enacted.  Members of Congress up for re-election in November want more aid to help them campaign in the face of the pandemic and recession.  Their earlier hope that a strong economic recovery would pull them through is fading fast, so concerns about rising debt and deficits are taking a back seat to concerns about re-election.
    That will change, of course, after the election.  Opening shots already have been fired about debt and deficits, notably by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.  And news reports say Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is using the growing debt against potential presidential rivals, exclaiming to his colleagues “what the hell are we doing” in considering significant new deficit spending.
    But more money is coming, including stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, aid to governments, and education spending.  It should have been enacted sooner to help the economy, but better late than never.
    However, until we get public health under better management, rather than the herky-jerky opening and closing states are doing now, the economy can’t get back on track.  The new stimulus, while necessary and welcome, will likely be much lower than it should be given the recession’s depth.  And in any case, stimulus alone can’t solve our economic problem.  That requires coherent, smart public health policies that we seem unable to enact.