COVID & Unemployment

Expanded COVID-19 unemployment money is helping millions of workers pay their bills

Mitchell Hartman Jul 9, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Juanmonino via Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

Expanded COVID-19 unemployment money is helping millions of workers pay their bills

Mitchell Hartman Jul 9, 2020
Juanmonino via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

More than 30 million out-of-work Americans are receiving unemployment benefits right now. For the week ending July 4, an additional 1.3 million workers sought unemployment aid as layoffs remain historically high amid spikes in COVID-19 cases, according to the latest jobless claims report.

Under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, recipients of state jobless benefits get an extra $600 added every week. That makes the average unemployment check about equal to the median pay for working Americans nationwide.

Unless Congress extends the funding, those $600 federal pandemic unemployment payments will run out at the end of July.

Advocates for maintaining the payments say they’re a crucial financial lifeline for out-of-work Americans at a time when new jobs are scarce, and going to work could be dangerous due to COVID-19.

Opponents argue the payments are so high they discourage people from looking for work.

Dave Harris of Hoboken, New Jersey, has been on unemployment since March. “I didn’t really see much of a pay cut at all, with that expanded unemployment,” he said.

Harris is a car mechanic and still hasn’t been called back to his job.

“I was actually able to use that extra $600 a week to pay down some of my credit cards,” he said.

If the federal payments end, he says he’ll look for work or go back to school.

Miami bartender James Gamboa has been furloughed since March and says the federal money has allowed him to pay his bills. If it runs out?

“You know, got to get back in the swing of things,” Gamboa said. “I mean, you hope we can get a handle on the pandemic as well.”

He was about to start a new restaurant job — but Florida’s recent COVID-19 surge shut the place down.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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