Time has run out on the critical $600 weekly unemployment benefit created through the CARES Act, and if Congress doesn’t act soon to save it, women and families struggling the most to survive in this pandemic will lose billions of dollars.
The latest Senate Republican unemployment insurance proposal is not only administratively impossible, but it is dismally inadequate. Under their proposal, women will lose out on $5.48 billion in unemployment insurance benefits every week—that’s almost $50 billion* by the end of September.
Many have labeled this economic crisis a “shecession.” The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare and worsened deep structural inequities facing working people, particularly women and people of color. Women accounted for 55 percent of the 20.5 million jobs lost in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and unemployment rates for women of color are staggeringly high:
- Nearly 1 in 7 Black women (14.0%) ages 20 and over were unemployed in June. Black women’s unemployment rate is down from 16.5% in May, but still nearly 3 times higher than their pre-pandemic unemployment rate (4.8% in February).
- Similarly, more than 1 in 7 (15.3%) Latinas ages 20 and over were unemployed in June, down from 19.0% in May, but over three times higher than their unemployment rate in February (4.9%).
- By comparison, June’s unemployment rate for white men was 9.0%, making them one of the only demographic groups to reach single digit unemployment in June.
Unemployment insurance (UI) is one of our country’s most important tools to stabilize families and the economy. For women—who typically experience lower earnings and a higher risk of poverty than their male peers and are more likely than men to raise children alone—this support is particularly vital.
UI has played an outsized role in helping women and families weather this pandemic and deep recession due to key investments Congress made in UI in the CARES Act in March. Congress strengthened UI by extending the weeks people could receive unemployment benefits, expanding benefit eligibility to new groups like self-employed people, and adding a crucial $600 per week (the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) program) on top of the regular unemployment insurance amount people normally get.
Before the PUC program people receiving unemployment benefits in most states got, on average, less than half their weekly salaries—the average benefit of $382 per week only represents 32.7 percent of the average wage—not nearly enough to live on for most people. The PUC program was meant to reflect the dire straits our country was in due to COVID-19 by covering 100% of the average US wage when combined with regular unemployment. COVID-19 cases are rising with no end in sight, and the PUC program—a lifeline for families—expired on Friday, July 31st. Now millions of lives are on the line.
Despite the importance of the PUC program, Senate Republicans last week unveiled a UI proposal that will slash benefits to $200 a week and eventually replace a flat benefit amount with an “individualized assessment” for each person. This plan has been universally decried by state unemployment officials who say that it will be impossible to calculate individual benefit amounts for millions of people.
Republicans are also claiming, falsely, that giving people extra money is a disincentive to work. Not only is this offensive, but it is patently untrue, as proven by a recent Yale study showing that there was no evidence that recipients of more generous benefits were less likely to return to work.
So, what can you do? Right now, you can call your elected officials and demand that they #savethe600 and #extendUI.
Call for the women who struggled to get by as restaurant servers and bartenders, fast food workers, hotel clerks, housekeeping cleaners, retail salespersons, nail salon workers, staff at theaters and other entertainment venues, and in other service sector positions who have now lost their jobs altogether. Call for the more than 1 million people—mostly women—who have lost their state and local government jobs. Call for the millions of families who were already teetering on the edge of poverty before COVID-19. Together, we can #savethe600.