In just two months, the number of people who have filed for unemployment due to the coronavirus has hit historic records. As businesses shuttered to slow the transmission of the virus, many furloughed workers and immediately laid off millions of people. The cuts were so quick and severe, they wiped out years of job gains.
In April, the U.S Department of Labor reported the U.S. unemployment rate had surged to 14. 7 percent, marking the highest unemployment rate since the agency started tracking the monthly data in 1948. The job losses hit every major working group, but not every race suffered equally. The data showed that women and people of color lost their jobs at a higher rate than white men.
The rate was 13.0 percent for adult men compared to 15.5 percent for women. The breakdown:
- 2 percent of workers were white
- 7 percent were Black
- 5 percent were Asian
- 9 percent were Hispanic
The rates for all of these groups, with the exception of Blacks, represented record highs.
Since March 15th, unemployment claims in Missouri have totaled more than 545,000, according to the Missouri Spatial Data Information Service. For the month of March, the unemployment rate in the state sat at 4.5 percent (Data is not available yet for April).
As states like Missouri began to lift statewide stay-at-home orders, economists warn that the current wave of food insecurity and economic problems could worsen in August if Congress doesn’t act and continue to help alleviate the pain for struggling families.
In March, Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus package, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, aimed at helping workers, businesses and states deal with the economic downturn from efforts to curb the outbreak. The CARES Act included bonus unemployment insurance provisions to help many jobless people and self-employed workers, but those cuts are set to expire at the end of the July. Missouri is ending it a week earlier on July 25.
After it ends, unemployed workers will lose the additional $600 a week. After that, jobless workers would only be eligible for their state unemployment benefit. Prior to COVID-19, the state benefit replaced roughly 40% of prior wages for the average worker. Since most workers who have been laid off have low-incomes, the end of these benefits could trigger secondary shocks that would further intensify economic uncertainty. Congress must make sure this does not happen!
On Wednesday, the U.S. House unveiled a new bill called “The HEROES Act” that extends some critical provisions that were included in the four earlier relief packages. The $3 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal would extend the CARES Act unemployment benefits measures through January of 2021, including the $600 boost.
The HEROES Act will also provide more important forms of income support, including a second round of stimulus payments.
In the coming weeks, Congress is expected to start negotiations on the next phase of Coronavirus relief. While it remains to be seen if the U.S House proposal will move forward to be debated in the U.S. Senate, the surging unemployment numbers should be alarming enough for the federal government to take action to help struggling families, especially women and people of color.
An immediate policy solution exists. At the minimum, lawmakers should use the provisions included in the HEROES Act to extend the bonus unemployment insurance in the next Coronavirus package beyond July or structure the benefits to taper off rather than completely stop. Congress should also move to extend state benefits past the current 39-week maximum allowed by CARES Act so that vulnerable families get back on their feet. When people’s incomes are stabilized, families can pay their bills on time, eat healthier meals and help to stimulate the economy.
The latest federal proposal is important. It would be helpful if these measures could stay in place until the labor market is back to pre-depression levels and the economy no longer needs the stimulus the coronavirus relief bills have provided.
We need your help to get these provisions passed in the next COVID-19 relief package. Please reach out to your federal representatives and take action to urge lawmakers to provide these essential programs for struggling families.
Feel free to use our template at EmpowerMissouri.org and / or change the message to focus on items that are of interest to you.
Make your voice heard!