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Excerpted From: Emma Janger, Nicole Rubin and Sejal Singh, Making Unemployment Insurance Work for Working People, 68 UCLA Law Review Discourse 102 (2020) (75 Footnotes)(Full Document)
This year, millions of families were hurled into deep financial precarity as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Trump Administration's failure to slow the spread forced businesses across the country to shut their doors. From mid-March to mid-June, more than 44 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance. Unemployment, which spiked to its highest rate since the Great Depression, is even higher for Black workers than white workers, and will almost certainly remain high for years after the pandemic subsides. The COVID-19 crisis also exposed a crisis of racial capitalism: During a pandemic that is killing Black and Latinx people at twice the rate it is killing white people, and killing Indigenous people at elevated rates, workers of color are more likely to be financially precarious and at risk of losing their jobs, have far less wealth to fall back on because of a deep racial wealth gap, and are more likely to be the workers in retail, food service, and shipping jobs who are sent to the front lines of the pandemic to put their lives at risk for corporate bottom lines. And this crisis is far from over: The Congressional Budget Office projects that the economy may not fully recover until 2030.
As people struggle to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented numbers of Americans are turning to unemployment insurance (UI), only to find a shredded social safety net already in tatters. Congress's third COVID-19 relief package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Emergency Security (CARES) Act, provided urgently needed relief by expanding UI coverage and providing an extra $600 per week to every person receiving benefits. But the CARES Act's benefits were temporary. Although the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a comprehensive package reauthorizing the $600 benefit in May, the GOP-controlled Senate refused to do so benefits expired on July 31st, leaving tens of millions of unemployed workers to live on state unemployment insurance, which pays workers an average of just $320 a week, and pays many workers far less. As the current economic crisis has shown, temporary expansions to UI, like those in the CARES Act, are necessary, but not sufficient: Unemployment insurance will not work for working people without systemic change.
[. . .]
The COVID-19 pandemic spread across longstanding racial and class inequities, and a just recovery must include bold new programs designed to dismantle racial capitalism and build power and economic security for working-class people of color. Our response to mass unemployment must resist an economic system that punishes working people, especially people of color, for being poor, and which rests on low wages and dangerous conditions for working people of color. That requires fighting for bold new programs, like a Paycheck Guarantee, Medicare for All, a Homes Guarantee, and freeing people held in prisons, jails, and immigration detention facilities where COVID-19 has spread like wildfire. For lawyers, it requires engaging in worker led movements, and it requires strengthening social safety net programs like unemployment insurance--ensuring that people who lose their jobs can still make ends meet during this crisis, and afterwards.
Emma Janger is a founding co-Director of the People's Parity Project.
Nicole Rubin is a second year student at Harvard Law School.
Sejal Singh is a founding co-Director of the People's Parity Project.
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