Coronavirus unemployment benefit extensions should turn off only when economy recovers

A return-to-work payment won’t be enough to get employment world back to normal; for many, 'normal' wasn’t sufficient: Opposing view

Coronavirus unemployment benefit extensions should turn off only when economy recovers

At the height of the Great Recession, 800,000 jobs were lost in one month. More than 20 million Americans lost their jobs this April.

Typically, unemployment insurance replaces less than half of a worker’s pay. When this crisis began, $600 weekly payments were added because states’ outdated systems (long underfunded by conservatives) couldn’t handle individual calculations.

If we eliminate the $600 weekly payment, millions will face a deeper crisis. In North Carolina, the average unemployed worker will receive only $265 a week: That’s not enough to pay a mortgage, find child care or feed a family.

Economists estimate that $600 is the only thing keeping 26% of families experiencing job loss afloat, as nearly 40% of low-income workers have lost jobs. The racism baked into health care and employment compounds forecasts of a slow and uneven recovery.

The economy will slump further if families can’t afford the basics.

OUR VIEW:Use unemployment stimulus to encourage return to work

At a protest on May 22, 2020, in Miami Beach, Florida.

Unemployment benefit extensions should turn off only when the economy recovers — when rehiring has taken place and hiring is back to normal. This idea of “automatic triggers” is popular among economists, because the faster we respond to a crisis, the better the recovery.

A Washington Post-ABC Poll found that 58% of Americans support extending the $600 beyond July and recognized that they wouldn’t return to normal activities anytime soon.

Those who want to reduce benefits aren’t paying attention to the reasons people don’t want to return to their jobs, like lack of child care and fears of getting sick. The $600 payment seems high only because wages are so low.

Eleven years since Congress raised the minimum wage, it’s past time to tackle the ways we exclude people from financial stability by race, geography and gender.

A return-to-work payment won’t be enough to get the employment world back to normal; for many, “normal” wasn’t sufficient.

We know the job market won’t recover by July. This isn’t a typical downturn, and we’ll need continued action to avert a full-blown depression.

Lily Roberts is director of economic mobility at the Center for American Progress.

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