More than 800,000 New Yorkers had another reason to worry about the future as federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic expired on September 5.
The scale of the benefits, which the New York Times estimated to be around $ 436 million in weekly aid over 17 months, reflected the heavy toll the pandemic has taken on the city.
An unemployment rate of 10.5%, nearly double the national average according to The Gothamist, has left many residents desperate for a safety net while being stuck in a financial and emotional vacuum, making the termination of federal benefits to both cruel and foolish.
Ericka Tircio, mother of a 6-year-old son and Ecuadorian immigrant who suffered the double blow of losing her job as a housekeeper and contracting COVID-19 in March 2020, echoed the sentiments of many New Yorkers on this issue. moment.
“I pray to God that they will remind me,” Tircio told The New York Times. “There are times when I’ve waited so long that I feel like I’m falling into a depression.”
There are several factors that explain why New York has been so badly affected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is clear that racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to inequalities in housing, health care, working conditions, income and education. A data note released by the New York City government in May highlighted the impact of structural racism on COVID-19 outcomes and pandemic anxiety.
Even before the pandemic, many New Yorkers struggled with the cost of living. The New York Times reported that if affordable housing is defined as housing that absorbs less than 30% of a household’s income, then more than half of New Yorkers were considered to be on rent in 2016, which meant that they also found it difficult to pay for other necessities such as childcare.
New York is one of the wealthiest cities in the world, but the vast majority of people who call it home, including CUNY students, are anything but.
In the face of all these difficulties, the continued spread of the Delta variant has also led to a new wave of layoffs, making the federal government’s decision to end aid related to the pandemic particularly backward.
Even though President Joe Biden refuted maintaining federal benefits, he stressed the importance of government intervention in encouraging states to use federal aid funds to support the unemployed – but shifting the political responsibility back is far from an easy or painless process.
One proposed method of allocating funds would be to increase the state’s weekly unemployment limit of $ 504 to cover lost $ 300 weekly federal aid, but this would likely require state legislation, according to The Gothamist. .
In the meantime, affected New Yorkers may be interested in assistance such as the New York Emergency Rental Assistance Program, also known as ERAP, SNAP for groceries, and Legal Services NYC.
One of the few groups celebrating the repeal of federal benefits related to the pandemic are New York business leaders and their Republican supporters.
“People weren’t encouraged to go to work,” said Thomas Grech, president and CEO of the Queen’s Chamber of Commerce, as reported by The New York Times. “They make more money staying at home. This is a classic case of good intentions gone bad.
However, CNBC reported that research has currently shown no correlation between the repeal of federal benefits and lower unemployment. It makes good sense that New Yorkers with less money to spend will mean a slower economic recovery.
Businesses are eager to claim they are victims of a labor shortage caused by worker laziness, but the reality is that New Yorkers are reluctant to be exploited.
Economists and hiring experts have mentioned that it is minimum wages and the lack of health care and safety protocols in the event of a pandemic that make unfilled jobs unattractive. Customer service work may even carry the risk of worker violence in response to mask and vaccine warrants.
Plus, it’s not as if these companies can’t afford to change their tactics. While small businesses have struggled particularly badly with sectors such as the hospitality refit, Reuters reported that business growth hit record highs in August.
This fits with the general trend of what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls a growing gap between labor productivity and employee compensation since the 1970s which has, in turn, widened the country’s income gap.
The origin of the productivity gap probably lies in the fact that the 1970s was the era of former President Ronald Reagan, who encouraged the dismissal of striking union workers and their replacement by non-union workers, announcing 50 years of declining union membership.
Today, as powerful companies like Amazon.com, Inc. come under scrutiny for their aggression toward organizing efforts, the benefits of the pandemic are not an unfair advantage New Yorkers have over business leaders. business – they are one of the only forms of leverage in a deeply unfair playing field.
As the pandemic spreads, it is becoming increasingly clear that many New Yorkers are being left behind.