At Select Subcommittee Hearing, Experts Urge Swift Action to Address Jobs Crisis
Washington, DC – June 19, 2020) -- Yesterday, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, held a hearing to examine the jobs crisis, which has led to record unemployment across the United States.
“We cannot bury our heads in the sand and hope that our economy will miraculously recover. It won’t,” Chairman Clyburn said at the hearing. “Congress and this Administration must meet this moment to support Americans in need and prevent even more economic destruction.”
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 stop the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit from expiring next month. The witnesses explained that a lasting economic recovery will not happen until the federal government successfully controls the spread of the coronavirus.
Harvard Professor Jason Furman, who served as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama, testified that according to a new analysis he developed, allowing expanded unemployment insurance to expire would have a devastating impact on the nation’s economy, including the loss of another 2 million jobs and a 2.5% decline in the nation’s gross domestic product. “To put that in context,” he explained, “that’s about one year’s worth of economic growth—more than one year’s worth—wiped away.”
Ahead of the hearing, Chairman Clyburn sent a letter to the Trump Administration demanding the release of key unemployment and economic projections. The White House has claimed that the economy “is now in the recovery stage,” but is withholding internal projections that all other modern presidents, Democrat and Republican, have released.
Witnesses, who also included Howard University Professor and AFL-CIO Chief Economist William E. Spriggs and Michelle Evermore of the National Employment Law Project, provided the following additional information:
The jobs crisis is hurting vulnerable communities and could last for months.
- 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.”
- 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.”