First and foremost, Congress faces a stark choice, as the estimated 30 million workers without a job are about to lose the $600 in federal unemployment that was added to state figures. The federal funds are scheduled to expire by the end of the month.
Without those payments, a dire economic situation may slip into disaster. Already, many mortgages and commercial real estate contracts are slipping into default, as workers and businesses displaced by the coronavirus economic shutdown struggle. A new spike has rolled back some of the early business reopenings, exacerbating the situation.
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Unless Congress extends the extra unemployment funding, those receiving the payments will be reduced to state benefits. Some see that as a way to stimulate a return to work by those reluctant to risk their health while receiving equivalent pay.
Others claim there are fewer jobs to return to, particularly in the service sectors.
“To avoid a significant decline in consumer spending once the $600 bonus expires, either the economy will have to create a lot of jobs very quickly or we need more fiscal support,” said Torsten Slok, chief economist and managing director for Deutsche Bank Research, in a research note.
The education system is also at a crossroads. Online-only classes have been declared for many public and private institutions for the coming semester. But those paying the freight argue that they are not receiving the deal they signed up for, and should get a break on tuition. Others claim at-home policies are a burden on parents that have to leave home to work.
The LAUSD teachers union is already on record as saying it’s not possible for a return to campuses anytime soon.
More than 18,000 United Teachers of Los Angeles members submitted responses to a poll on Friday regarding whether a return to physical presence is schools would work. 83% agreed that LAUSD should not physically reopen schools on August 18.
“It is hitting us hard to think we may not be back with our students in the fall,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said. “And we know this is hard on our students and their parents, so many of whom have stepped up as our partners in teaching while struggling with the economic fallout of this crisis. But safety must come first, along with a commitment to focus on strengthening distance learning.
The overall system is so fragile that any missteps along the way could be disastrous. As hurricane season approaches, the government first responders are already at the breaking point, drained by the recent social upheavals related to George Floyd and the family strains caused by the economic uncertainty.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell summed up the situation earlier this week. Speaking at his semiannual appearance before Congress, he suggested that there’s still “economic uncertainty.”
“The levels of output and employment remain far below their pre-pandemic levels, and significant uncertainty remains about the timing and strength of the recovery,” Powell said. “Much of that economic uncertainty comes from uncertainty about the path of the disease and the effects of measures to contain it. Until the public is confident that the disease is contained, a full recovery is unlikely.”
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