For the 26th week in a row, the Department of Labor released weekly employment statistics showing massive job losses. Slightly over 1.5 million people filed for unemployment benefits over the last week — 860,000 through the traditional program and 659,000 through the newly-created Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefit. Unemployment has exploded for six months straight as a consequence of the U.S. government’s refusal to provide urgently needed assistance to the working class during the Coronavirus pandemic.
In total slightly less than 30 million workers are enrolled in some kind of unemployment program. But even this number fails to capture the full extent of the unemployment crisis due to the huge numbers of people who have either been forced out of the workforce altogether or have been forced to work part-time due to a lack of available full-time positions.
Matters are made even worse by the recent expiration of the $600 a week enhancement to unemployment benefits. The executive order issued by the Trump administration only restores a portion of this benefit, and was written in a way to make its implementation highly complex.
Meanwhile, the ultra-rich are accumulating even more wealth at an eye-popping pace. The combined wealth of the billionaire class has increased by at least $637 billion since the pandemic began. Jeff Bezos, the richest person on the planet, had a particularly good day over the summer — on July 20th alone he made $13 billion. The stock market has almost fully recovered to its pre-pandemic record high.
Government abandons working class
In many other countries around the world, including even capitalist countries, the pandemic has not resulted in mass unemployment. Congress and the Federal Reserve managed to find $4 trillion to bail out the big banks and corporations — certainly they could come up with the money to indefinitely replace the income of laid-off workers. It is a policy decision to allow tens of millions of workers to be plunged into crisis and uncertainty.
Liberation News spoke with Yasemin Zahra, a union organizer and chair of Labor Against War and Racism, about what measures should be immediately taken to alleviate this crisis. “Extending emergency unemployment benefits and the Payroll Support Program, which expires at the end of September and would keep workers on payroll with wages and benefits, is a start.” she said, “Another stimulus check sent directly to the people will go far in keeping our economy afloat. Small businesses are going bankrupt without aid and local governments are desperately in need of support.”
Zahra added that it has become more important than ever to guarantee basic social rights in addition to people’s incomes, “Especially during a pandemic, maintaining housing is a public health emergency and requires canceling rents and mortgages and providing eviction protections.”
Despite empty promises that the economy will simply “bounce back” and stage a rapid recovery after lockdown measures are eased, the level of weekly job losses is barely even slowing down. U.S. capitalism is yet again displaying its utter inability to provide a life with dignity for the working class.