GOP fiddles as jobless cavalcade continues and pandemic rages
People stand in line to inquire about jobs available at the Bean Automotive Group during a job fair in Miami. For the sixth week in a row there have been record numbers of people signing up for jobless benefits, including this week as the $600 weekly federal benefit ended. | AP

WASHINGTON—Congressional Republicans fiddled and made no moves to help the unemployed, as the cavalcade of jobless workers continued in the week ending August 1. And the fiddling may come back to haunt them in November, polls show.

In those seven days ending August 1, another 984,192 people sought state jobless benefits, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on August 6. But when BLS adjusted the actual number for seasonal factors—such as teenagers who should be seeking summer jobs that aren’t there—the total was 1.186 million.

Another 655,707 people filed for the $600 weekly federal-only jobless benefits in the week ending August 1. They’re home health care workers, farmworkers, “independent contractors,” and workers such as musicians and actors who have lost their gigs.

They’re also the ones who are now hurt as the Republicans followed Nero’s example and fiddled while Rome burns, so to speak. Eligibility for those $600 checks ended July 31 when the program expired. Not coincidentally, an outsized share of those now-hurting workers are people of color.

But the Republicans, under the whip of President Donald Trump and particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., don’t want to keep the $600 checks coming. The most McConnell grudgingly offers in his version of the next economic aid package is $200 weekly. And almost half of his Senate GOP caucus wants to give the jobless workers zip.

By contrast, the $3 trillion Heroes Act (HR6800), which the Democratic-run House approved in mid-May on a party-line vote, and which McConnell promptly buried, continues the $600 checks through January 31.

That legislation also forestalls future huge hikes in the number of jobless, by including $1 trillion for state and local governments, which are going broke due to the coronavirus-caused-closures and the resulting crash in tax revenues. They’ve already had to lay off 200,000 workers.

And HR6800 has $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, money which Trump adamantly opposes. Without it, the USPS may have to shut down by the end of October, throwing another 604,000 people, most of them Black, brown, female, veterans, or combinations of those characteristics, out of jobs.

All those mind-boggling numbers are small fractions of the real total of unemployed, which run two weeks behind BLS’s weekly data. Those figures show 32.119 million people claimed state or federal jobless benefits for the week ending July 18, some 1.707 million more than the week before. That includes 12.956 million people who got only the $600 federal checks. The rest got both.

Opinion polls, for HuffPost/YouGov, show a two-to-one ratio in favor of continuing the federal $600 checks, 54%-29%. Among Democrats, it’s four-to-one (73%-18%) while 43% of Republicans who answered opposed continuing the federal aid. Forty percent favored it.

Two vulnerable Senate Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Martha McSally of Arizona, have split away from McConnell because opposing aid could cost them their seats. They’re proposing $400 or $500 weekly checks in August, $400 in September, and then checks equal to 80% of worker’s prior wages through the end of the year.

The aid is necessary because BLS said the official unemployment rate remains at 11%. But the 32.119 million new beneficiaries, added to the seven million who needed jobless aid even before the coronavirus pandemic hit and the millions more who have just plain dropped out, produces a figure of 55 million unemployed, and a jobless rate at 20% or more.

They’re jobless due to the forced closures needed to combat the pandemic, and its latest numbers show, even more starkly, the impact of the Trump-GOP fiddling: Red state Florida, whose GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is a slavish Trumpite, is now first in the nation in cumulative coronavirus cases.

DeSantis reopened his state too early and residents flocked to beaches, bars, and shopping malls. Combine that with the Sunshine State’s high proportion of elderly, who are most vulnerable to the pandemic, and you get 532,709 cumulative coronavirus cases in Florida, overtaking California (530,606).

Another big red state, Texas, led the nation in new cases on August 5 (+10,967). Florida was second in new cases that day (5,409) and California was third (3,921).

Overall, Johns Hopkins University, the most comprehensive and accurate coronavirus counter, reported the U.S. has had 4,825,742 people test positive for the virus since the pandemic was declared, and 158,300 have died.  Both figures lead the world by wide margins.

The Centers for Disease Control says the real figures could be as much as 13 times as high.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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