Joe abandoned labor on LABOR Day.
Today jobless benefits expired for millions of workers. What did the President and his White House do? Nothing. Instead, they told us that the relief was always meant to be "temporary." And it's over.
President Biden and his top economic advisers style him as the new FDR, promising us that his Administration will deliver a 21st century New Deal.
“There’s a reason people keep going back to FDR,” said Felicia Wong [president and CEO of the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute] , noting how many still tell her that Roosevelt gave their grand-father a job. “You can be the hero of your own story if you build things that are very direct. Presidents want to be heroes. The good ones want to be heroes for the right reason, and that heroism has been made very available to Biden: You could create a new economy that is going to be more green and less racist. Wow, that is appealing.”
Lies all lies. But transformational change is possible, and not all heroes wear capes. Frances Perkins, the tireless advocate for labor in the early 20th century, was a champion for the jobless, and she is rolling in her grave today. Perkins served as FDR’s Secretary of Labor. She was the brains and brawn behind the New Deal. Her biography is on the bookshelf behind me during my TV interviews. I see her every time I sit down at my desk.
Transformational change requires people with a vision and leaders who help them make that vision a reality. During the Covid-19 crisis, I have had the opportunity to work with many visionary experts on unemployment insurance and help members of Congress who endorse their vision to craft legislation to reform the broken system. History matters too, so I read Perkin’s book and ‘live tweeted’ it.
But, hey, we can’t all be Frances Perkins, and she didn’t win every battle either. The Social Security Act of 1935, which created unemployment insurance, excluded most Black and brown workers and gave a lot of discretion to states, some of which had no intention of giving everyone benefits. But when push came to shove, Perkins shoved back and FDR helped strengthen worker protections—the ones that millions of us take for granted.
Fast forward to today, and we have an unemployment insurance that’s been neglected for decades. Biden knows it. His advisers know it, as do members of Congress. None of them should have been surprised that it nearly collapsed in this crisis and that it continues to fail workers. Today the White House and Congress failed them again.
How did we get here? For starters and inexplicably, the technology behind the unemployment insurance system is woefully out of date. It crashed when millions applied for benefits every week at the start of the pandemic, benefits were delayed, and systems were left vulnerable to cyberattacks.
The most contentious part of the federal relief for the jobless— the extra $600 per week and then extra $300 per week — was directly due to the bad technology. States could not increase the replacement rates, which are normally about one third to one half of previous wages, for the unemployed. All they could do was add a flat dollar amount on. $600 was chosen because it is 100% of prior weekly pay for the typical unemployed worker. And that’s why many got jobless benefits more than their prior paychecks. Tech failed. Systems failed. Benefits were left vulnerable to politics.
Lest we forget, the United States has Silicon Valley, the tech center of the world. And our public policy is hamstrung by impossible re-coding?!? Why should the workers and families hit the hardest in this crisis—at no fault of their own—pay for the sins of neglect, often intentional, by politicians?
And that’s only the start of the problems. Millions of unemployed workers are not eligible for benefits, even under the Covid-19 expansions, especially low-wage and seasonal workers, as well as those unlucky to live in states that make it very hard to get benefits. Even with all the enhancements, jobless benefits did not get to many who lost income due to the pandemic. That’s a massive failure.
Want to be transformation? You have to TRANSFORM the world. The Biden White House has no excuses. Countless proposals to reform unemployment insurance exist. Months ago I wrote about some longstanding proposals and others to put extra benefits on autopilot. I am not alone in these desperate calls to do more.
When there’s a will there’s a way. But no will, no way. Words are not enough.
Heather Boushey [a member in Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers] was confident that enormous shifts were taking place, ones that had been under way for some time. The Democratic Party, even its Establishment leaders like Clinton, had begun to move away from the centrist, Wall Street–driven approach that had characterized it for the past 50 years toward a greater commitment to bigger public investment, the kind that came out of movements for gender and racial equity.”
Give it a rest, Heather. Here’s the reality from Biden’s White House this week:
“White House press secretary Jen Psaki struck a markedly different tone at the press briefing on Monday, echoing Biden’s prior comments that “it makes sense” for the benefits to lapse. “[Biden] made a decision based on where things stand and our economic recovery at this point in time,” Psaki told reporters.”
The Black unemployment rate was 8.8% in August; the unemployment rate is almost 2 percentage points above its level before the pandemic, and we have 5.6 million fewer workers—many are mothers without child care and older workers afraid of dying. Speaking of which, over 1,500 people are dying every day from Covid.
President Biden, exactly how does it “make sense” to cut off the unemployed now?
Ain’t no happy Labor Day.