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job rebound

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070620.TrumpTowerofCoffins  When Someone Says Biden Sucks, You Are Supposed to Have a Good A

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Since the first of June,
Lost my job and lost my room.
I pretend to try,
Even though I tried alone.

— Sufian Stevens, “Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)”

Yesterday morning, the U.S. Department of Labor (pdf) reported that, during the week ending last Saturday, another 1.3 million American workers filed initial claims for unemployment compensation. That’s on top of the 48.7 million workers who were laid off during the preceding fifteen weeks.

Here is a breakdown of each week:

• week ending on 21 March—3.31 million

• week ending on 28 March—6.87 million

• week ending on 4 April—6.62 million

• week ending on 11 April—5.24 million

• week ending on 18 April—4.44 million

• week ending on 25 April—3.87 million

• week ending on 2 May—3.18 million

• week ending on 9 May—2.69 million

• week ending on 16 May—2.45 million

• week ending on 23 May—2.12 million

• week ending on 30 May—1.90 million

• week ending on 6 June—1.57 million

• week ending on 13 June—1.54 million

• week ending on 20 June—1.48 million

• week ending on 27 June—1.41 million

• week ending on 4 July—1.31 million

All told, 50 million American workers have filed initial unemployment claims during the past sixteen weeks.

To put that into some kind of perspective, I produced a chart comparing the cumulative totals of the initial unemployment claims for the current pandemic compared to two other relevant periods: the worst point of the Second Great Depression (from the middle of January to early May 2009) and the weeks immediately preceding the current depression (from the end of November 2019 to mid-March 2020).

As readers can see in the chart above, the difference is stunning: 10.2 million workers filed initial claims during the worst 16-week period of 2009, 3.5 million from early December to mid-March of this year, and 50 million in the past sixteen weeks.

According to the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unemployed workers actually fell by 3.2 million to 17.8 million in June, leading to an official unemployment rate of 11.1 percent—although, the surveys on which those data are based only capture those who were unemployed in mid-June, before the new wave of business shutdowns and layoffs.

Moreover, even as the protests ignited a national uprising against racism in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd and others, African Americans have experienced the slowest recovery of all racial groups. While the official black unemployment rate in June fell (to 15.4 percent), it is still much higher than the white rate (10.1 percent) and higher even than the Hispanic rate (14.5 percent).

On top of that, we should add in the workers who are involuntarily working part-time jobs—in other words, workers who would like to have full-time jobs but have been forced “for economic reasons” to accept fewer hours—and discouraged workers—Americans who are able to work but have given up looking for a job. The reserve army of unemployed and underemployed workers then rises to something on the order of 30 million Americans.

new-covid-cases-per-million

In the meantime, the United States continues to set daily records for new confirmed COVID-19 cases. Yesterday, there were 178 new cases per million people in the United States compared to 27.6 cases for the world as a whole.

We can therefore expect to see new waves of business closures, which in turn will mean more American workers furloughed and laid off, and therefore a steady stream of initial unemployment claims.

The only possible conclusion to draw is that, unless there’s a radical change in the U.S. response, the existing economic and social disaster in the United States will continue to worsen in the weeks and months ahead.

bagley

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hunger

For those who remain skeptical, Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that only Black lives matter. The movement represents the idea that, if Black lives don’t matter—because of police violence, COVID infections and deaths, unemployment, and much else—then all lives are diminished by the existing set of economic and social institutions.

Much the same holds for food insufficiency or hunger. If right now, in the midst of the pandemic, Black households are suffering more from a lack of food than Whites, then something is systemically wrong—American society is not treating all lives in a fair and humane manner.

It’s as if someone had a knee to their throats, not allowing them to eat.

But, of course, that’s not how racial capitalism works. There’s plenty of food to be had and no one is standing at the door of the grocery store or supermarket preventing them from entering. But people only get to eat a sufficient amount if they have the money to purchase the food. And if they lose their jobs or have their hours shortened or are faced with a pay cut, then their incomes aren’t enough to pay for the commodities they need, including food. They have to go without. So, if working-class Blacks (and Hispanics and others) are the last ones hired and the first hired, or they’re attempting to make do with whatever low-paying jobs are available, then they and their families go hungry.

So, what do the data show?

The chart at the top of the post shows how widespread and unequal hunger is in the United States. According to the information from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Surveys, comparing the situation from before the novel coronavirus pandemic (prior to 13 March 2020) and now (between 18 and 23 June 2020), overall food insufficiency has grown from an already-high 7.6 percent to 9.5 percent.* But the rates are much worse for Black Americans—both before the pandemic, when it was 16.5 percent, and more recently, when it has risen to 18.5 percent—as well as Hispanics—12.8 percent and 13.9 percent, respectively.

hunger-children

The situation is even more dire when we consider households with children, as indicated in the chart above. Overall, food insufficiency in such households has risen during the pandemic from 10.2 percent to 12.3 percent. But the rate for Blacks, which suffered from hunger at more than 3 times the rate of Whites before the pandemic, is now 20.5 percent. The rate for Hispanic households, which was already high, remains around 15 percent.**

Clearly, Black lives don’t matter in the United States when it comes to food sufficiency. They didn’t matter before the COVID crisis, and they matter even less now.

 

Transforming American society in the name of “liberty, justice, and freedom” means many things in this moment—including tackling the problem of hunger.

 

*In order to work with the questions in the Census Bureau survey, I define food insufficiency or hunger as the sum of responses of “sometimes not enough to eat” and “often not enough to eat.”

**If I include the third response, “enough food, but not always the types wanted”—and therefore add to the other answers the Census Bureau’s equivalent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition of low food security (“reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake”)—the rates soar. White households with children are experiencing a rate of food insecurity (as against hunger or food insufficiency, in the way I’ve used it in the text) of 40.5 percent. For Black households it’s 58 percent, and, in the case of Hispanic households, 58.8 percent.

07.01.2020_capitalism_grave

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evictions

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loss-income

In the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, every story, every piece of information, reveals the degree to which our current economic and social institutions have failed us.

The data show us both how widespread the effects of the COVID crisis are and how uneven those effects are. At each turn, they represent a profound critique of U.S. capitalism.

Consider, for example, the information contained in the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Surveys, which were initiated in late April of this year.

Based on the latest survey, which was conducted between 18 and 23 June 2020, we can see in the chart at the top of the post that almost half (48.1 percent) of U.S. households experienced a loss of employment income since mid-March. The members of those households had either lost their jobs, saw their working hours shortened, or had their pay cut.

But the loss didn’t affect all households equally. For the seventy percent of U.S. households earning less than $100 thousand a year, more than 52 percent had suffered a loss of income. In contrast, about 38 percent of Americans earning more than that experienced a loss of income. And, of course, their large employers have received massive bailouts from the federal government.

loss-race

A similarly unequal story emerges from the breakdown of the data according to race and ethnicity in the chart above. While 43.5 percent of White households experienced a loss of income since 13 March of this year, both Black and Hispanic households suffered much more—54.2 percent and 60 percent, respectively.

Both pieces of information challenge the idea that “we’re all in this together.” We never have been, and we certainly aren’t as the consequences of the COVID crisis force Americans to confront how they’ve been abandoned to their own unequal fates by the economic and political elites of their country.

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