At Select Subcommittee Hearing, Experts Urge Swift Action to Address Jobs Crisis
Yesterday, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis held a virtual hearing to examine the magnitude of the unemployment crisis, the role of federal and state unemployment support, and whether additional support is needed to achieve a sustainable economic recovery. Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, serves on this panel, which is a subcommittee of the Oversight Committee.
Witnesses testified that the current economic crisis disproportionately hurts women, people of color, and workers in low-wage jobs. They emphasized that record-high unemployment will likely last for months, and that Congress must act to extend the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit which is due to expire in July. The witnesses explained that a lasting economic recovery will not happen until the federal government successfully controls the spread of the coronavirus.
During the hearing, the Congresswoman stated, “When people lose their incomes, they lose the ability to afford necessities like housing, food, and healthcare. That is why we worked so hard to ensure that the CARES Act included additional benefits for unemployed workers. Here in the House, we also passed an extension of those benefits in the HEROES Act, but the Senate has failed to act to date.
“In New York, while being hit hard by coronavirus, unemployment rates in April went up to more than 14%. And, the May jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that we still have dire levels of unemployment throughout the country.
“This crisis is far from over. In fact, I fear it may be getting worse. We must continue to provide relief for the millions of Americans who are unemployed. I urge our colleagues in the Senate to take up the Heroes Act and support the extension of unemployment benefits.
“In New York, we have seen some of the highest rates of infections and deaths from this terrible crisis. Thanks to the sacrifices of New Yorkers and the bravery or our frontline heroes, we have finally bent our curve, and we are cautiously seeking to return to some increased activity. We are still in the first wave, and clearly this virus is not contained.”
At the hearing, the Committee heard testimony from Michele Evermore, Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst, National Employment Law Project; William E. Spriggs, PhD, Chief Economist, AFL-CIO Professor, Department of Economics, Howard University; Jason Furman, PhD, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Department of Economics at Harvard University; and Rachel Greszler, Research Fellow in Economics, Budget and Entitlements at the Heritage Foundation.
- Professor Furman: “Despite a slight improvement in May, from the records reported in unemployment in April, we remain in the worst crisis the American labor market has faced on record.”
- Professor Spriggs: “If you are one of the workers in the affected industries, the effective unemployment rate is 34%. If you are Black or Latino in those industries, it is 38%. . . . Because these workers face discrimination, because they are disparately Black and Latino and female, in the labor market they will have a harder time regaining employment.”
- Ms. Evermore: “We are dealing with an international pandemic that has forced us to shut down our economy for the sake of saving lives. … Although we are slowly starting to reopen our economy, we cannot pretend that everything will go back to normal in the next few weeks, months, or even years.”
The jobs crisis will continue until the Administration addresses the coronavirus public health crisis.
- Professor Furman: “More important than any economic policy is getting the health response right. Having the appropriate policies to prevent the increased spread of the virus, testing, tracing and isolation, adequate medical supplies and capacity, improved treatment and ultimately a vaccine. No economic policy can make up for failure in these dimensions.”
- Professor Furman: “The United States economy is in a much worse place for the second half of this year because of the lack of success in containing the virus.”
The federal government must prevent expanded unemployment insurance from expiring and take steps to restore jobs.
- Professor Furman: “Prematurely ending the policies that did help foster the progress we saw in May would risk a terrible outcome for the economy. Ending any form of increased unemployment insurance after it expires by the end of July would not just hurt the tens of millions of people receiving those benefits. It would also reduce their purchasing power, hurting the small businesses that they buy from, hurting the workers at those business, hurting the banks whose mortgages they wouldn’t pay risking the increased probability of a financial crisis, and hurting the economy overall.”
- Professor Spriggs: “We need a jobs program to address the young people who are disproportionally effected by this downturn. We need a jobs program because hiring right now is at a record low level, much lower than during the Great Recession.”
Expanded unemployment benefits are not the cause of the nation’s sky-high jobless rate.
- Ms. Evermore: The $600 federal benefit “is a lifeline and does not create a disincentive to work. As discussed above, under every state unemployment insurance law in the country, a person who refuses suitable work will be found ineligible for benefits. There are some situations that can be regarded as good cause to leave a job ... but the prospect of a higher unemployment benefit is not one of those good causes.”
- Professor Furman: “When unemployment is high, as it is now, the biggest problem is the total number of jobs and not whether people want to take them.”