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Local residents line up outside the food pantry Bed Stuy Campaign Against Hunger to receive free food during the COVID-19 pandemic on April 23, 2020 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Due to increased levels of unemployment, the lines at the daily food pantry have been getting longer. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

"We Need a Working People's Bailout": Unemployment Claims Hit 30 Million as Many Struggle to Afford Necessities

"The relief and recovery packages passed so far are not enough, and more aid is crucial."

Julia Conley

 The U.S. Labor Department on Thursday reported that more than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past six weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has spread across the U.S., leading to fresh calls from progressives for congressional action on a bailout for working people.

More than 3.8 million people filed for unemployment in the last week as the pandemic-caused recession begins to affect sectors that were previously thought to be far more stable than the food services and hospitality industries, which were forced to shut down last month when the virus began spreading rapidly to every state in the country. 

The new numbers mean that one out of five Americans have filed for unemployment in the past six weeks.

"There is no precedent for figures like this in modern American history," reported the Washington Post, adding that the number of jobs created since the 2008 economic meltdown and recession have now been lost. 

At the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), director of policy Heidi Shierholz wrote that the CARES Act and subsequent relief packages, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), other small business assistance, and one-time $1,200 payments to many Americans, "are not enough" to protect millions of people from financial ruin. 

"The next package should [include] $500 billion in aid to state and local governments, protect workers' paychecks, include worker safety and health protections, and invest in our democracy," wrote Shierholz.

Shierholz suggested that the federal government use one solution to help solve both the crisis of unemployment and that of the spreading pandemic by establishing a large-scale contact-tracing program to detect how the coronavirus is being transmitted and to whom:

We must also make significant investments in testing and contract tracing because, absent a vaccine or effective treatment for the virus, there is no way we will be able to reopen the economy successfully without an effective system of testing and contact tracing in place. It is likely that with 200,000 contact tracers, we could establish an effective tracing program. The federal government hires half a million temporary workers every ten years to conduct the decennial census—we could and should do large-scale hiring of public workers for contact tracing. That is one investment that would help not just in controlling the virus and allowing us to reopen earlier, but would also help the workers who would get those jobs, and their families, and therefore help the broader economy.

Without adjusting the unemployment numbers for seasonal changes as the Labor Department did, Shierholz wrote, nearly 28 million Americans, or one in six workers, applied for unemployment benefits in the last six weeks. Even with these lower numbers, she said, the unemployment rate is still "over five times the worst period of the Great Recession."

EPI also reported Thursday that an estimated 12.7 million Americans have already lost their employer-based health insurance as a result of the pandemic.

On Thursday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) reiterated her demand for Congress to pass her Paycheck Guarantee Act, which would ensure large and small businesses across the country are able to continue paying their workers' salaries of up to $100,000 per year. 

"We need a working people's bailout immediately. Nothing less," wrote Michael Whitney, former fundraising manager for Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) presidential campaign, on social media.

The new unemployment numbers came on the heels of a survey by the national parent-led organization ParentsTogether Action showing that about half of U.S. families will struggle to pay rent or mortgage payments on May 1 without reducing other necessary expenses, like groceries or medications.

National groups including Indivisible, the Center for Popular Democracy, and Greenpeace have been calling for weeks for a People's Bailout, which would provide substantial direct economic relief for families and help for businesses which prioritizes workers—not shareholder profits and executive pay.

The "hard-to-fathom" unemployment numbers prompted progressive New York congressional candidate Mondaire Jones to demand "direct cash payments every month to Americans until this crisis is over." 

"A one-time $1,200 check to working people is a slap in the face," Jones wrote. 

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