‘They are dying, that’s true, and it is what it is.’ ~Donald Trump
‘…certainly be pushback on Trump’s actions on legal grounds. But, with Senate Republicans out of negotiations, Republicans can frame legal pushback as Democrats objecting to the relief Americans so desperately need, even though the Democrats have been pushing for a relief bill for almost three months, and it is the Republicans who have been unable to produce one.’ ~Heather Cox Richardson
So I’ve heard a good deal recently from ostensibly middle-class white folks across the country that people staying home to collect that big $600 a week instead of returning to work are ‘laying up’: very ‘Donald Trumpian’ of you all. Folks who are not in imminent danger of losing their homes, not in danger of being unable to feed their kids, not about to lose their health insurance. Those who think that their experience is the only experience, the only experience that matters anyway.
This past week I’m seeing some things circulating around the extension of the supplemental Unemployment Insurance benefits in response to the Covid-19 pandemic that are both wildly ill-informed and contribute to a dangerous false narrative. So let’s begin with some givens:
- Donald Trump has been an abject failure in managing this pandemic, news to no one.
- As of this past weekend over 160,000 Americans have died: by November 3rd ‘we the people’ will be approaching a quarter of a million dead fellow citizens. Failure to act proactively has fueled the viral firestorm, and it is growing more transmittable every time it jumps. It is entirely possible that some of you reading this will be on a ventilator or dead by Election Day.
- Republicans have bought into Trump’s ‘magical’ thinking in the perverse delusion that the resulting economic crisis can be resolved without first dealing with the catastrophic health crisis, by simply continuing to insist it does not exist even as the body bags are piling up.
- ‘The House did, in fact, pass a coronavirus bill back in May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to take it up.’ Not until late July, when existing benefits were about to expire for millions of unemployed Americans. Now McConnell has simply abdicated responsibility because he cannot manage his own caucus.
- Many red states, in deference to Trump’s fiats by Tweet, have taken action way too late to slow the spread or are ignoring their leadership roles altogether. The net effect of that is that workers in those states show up to the job at their own risk. ‘Most experts think a vaccine is likely to become widely available by mid-2021, about 12–18 months…,’ no matter what Trump says: Best case scenario.
This Facebook post, directed at an allusion I made online regarding the necessity to millions of Americans of the UI extension, is about as reflective of the odes to the gods of condescension I get from many of these folks as I could have asked for:
“You might have missed the fact (as, inexplicably me, many seem to have) that the $600 bonus is IN ADDITION TO their regular unemployment amount. That means close to $1,000 per week for not working and it is the equivalent of $25/hour. That’s why employers can’t compete with it.
As for health insurance, I know that virtually all my clients provide to their employees, though it’s likely that some other employers don’t.
As for safety, even if it isn’t (yet) mandated by the state (most are at this point) the vast majority of retailers are requiring both employees and customers to adhere to CDC guidelines regarding masks, sanitation and distancing.
But you seem to be justifying the (questionable) extension of the $600 bonus on the basis of it making up for all the other current employment-related deficiencies or problems. In my eyes, and those of many business people and moderate voters, that is overreach and will not fly.
Surely we can effectively accomplish the same (financial) outcome by distributing those funds in a way that does not incentivize not working. Can’t we?”
Despite his self-identification, I don’t believe the fellow I’ve quoted above is a moderate: In a more sane world — one where the Republican party actually behaved as the fiscal conservatives they claim to be, rather than white identity culture warriors longing for a romanticized white straight male dominated American past — I would be considered a moderate. (It is worth being reminded that the only even remotely balanced budgets in the past forty years were achieved by Democrats, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.) I think this guy is a Trump troll in sheep’s clothing, but this is his well-articulated theory of the case against helping struggling families that might give the impression that he is imparting something empirically unassailable, rather than morally repugnant. He is not.
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First of all, he clearly does not understand how Unemployment Insurance works: America doesn’t have a national unemployment system, it has fifty state systems.
Yes, it is based on a percentage of the released employee’s salary to establish the baseline. But there is an income cap on weekly benefits that varies by state. I live in New York City, which has a relatively high income cap because the cost of living is so high and — theoretically anyway — salaries reflect that. (Massachusetts has the highest weekly benefit at $823, but there is a significant workforce that exceeds the $75,000 yearly salary cap to qualify for the full Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation [PEUC, aka PEU] so most did not qualify anyway.)
The cap in NYC is $504 a week in UI benefits. So if you made $1000 per week working, the most you will get in UI is $504; if you made $3000 per week working, the most you will get is $504 per week. No matter what standard of living you were sustaining on $1000 or $3000 a week, you will only have $504 a week to maintain it. When you add the PEU supplemental $600 per week the federal government provided until the end of July, you had roughly $1000 a week coming in after taxes.
$1000 a week before taxes is not a lot of money anywhere in the country, especially in NYC. If you pay rent or a mortgage, transportation and food — and that assumes you get job based health insurance, which many people don’t — you are barely getting by. And of course, most people are carrying credit debt from student loans, previous medical expenses, or just to fill the gap on living expenses. If you pay for child care that brings a whole other world of stress and expense.
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These are the majority of the Americans collecting UI with the $600 PEU, but it still doesn’t speak to those at the lowest end of the job market, doing the nastiest work, for the least money. Even if you make the calculation that $15 x 40 hours = $600 — and most of these workers are not making $15 per hour — that assumes that these folks are working full-time: most bosses who over work and under pay their staffs —who generally tend to be less educated people of color, women, immigrants and the disabled — for doing the work that they can’t get anyone else to do are also careful to limit employees’ hours to less than twenty-five per week so they don’t have to provide benefits. (And Republicans are seeking to disallow liability for companies when employees are infected with the virus on the job.) That is why many of these workers have two or three jobs. So if they are getting $600 a week plus a stunningly low UI base, that is because they were horribly underpaid to start with. If you think that is enough to ‘lay up’ on, you apparently don’t understand that these practices are the very definition of entrenched systemic racism, classism and misogyny. Pick your poison.
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However you parse it, the people whining about how inconvenienced they’ve been by the working class staying home to protect their health and keep their families safe are the very people who have participated in creating and maintaining massive pay inequities and class divisions based on race, ethnicity, class and gender. The same inequities that are now coming back to bite us in our collective ass, as that karma plays itself out on the backdrop of a global pandemic catastrophically bungled by the so-called leader of the free world. Exponentially more people are dead, and will die, because this happened while Donald Trump occupied the White House: it is ‘white privilege’ when you find other people’s real suffering ‘inconvenient’ to your maintaining your social status, your social schedule, or future potential grift opportunities.
I have no doubt that these folks genuinely feel stressed by having their privilege challenged in this way. Ironically, many are the same people that don’t want to be inconvenienced by wearing masks, but they don’t mind — in fact, feel it is owed them — when they need childcare or to send their kids to school, to order food, or they do get the virus and are suffering in ways they never have before, to go to an Emergency Room, to demand attention from ‘essential workers.’ The very same people they have been disparaging so dismissively are the ones they are now begging to teach and care for their kids, to feed them, and to save them from their own bad choices.
Essential workers are working 16 hour days often in potentially lethal circumstances; their kids are at home because they can’t go to school; their partners were laid off in March so UI, with that big $600 in PEU, is all the money they have coming in. And now that’s gone.
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And at the core of this twisted economic fairy tale is a fundamental — and I believe willful — lie: Trump’s GOP keeps pounding the trope that sending out-of-work Americans $600 per week is destructive to the economy. That it costs too much money and incentivizes workers not to return to work. Apparently their case is that those who’ve kept the wheels turning on an economy in service to their imperviousness should now be chastened like misbehaving children for not cleaning their rooms by not getting an allowance.
That, however, absolutely ignores the fundamental axiom of a functioning economy: The people who get those benefits must spend them, they must put the money back into the economy immediately. Without consumer spending, there is no economy and no hope of economic recovery. And much as Trump’s crowd looks to the stock market as a leading indicator, it doesn’t mirror the economic reality of most Americans. It reflects absolutely nothing more or less than that the people who’d already hoarded obscene wealth in the slight-of-hand that is the stock market are now shooting the moon. It is delusional to think that millions of Americans can be rendered penniless and homeless without an inevitable market crash: An actual economic Depression.
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Ironically the rich overwhelmingly white men— and their female accomplices — spinning this nonsense make $174,000 plus per year to show up to work less than half the time so they can sit on their money, wanting for nothing. Most of them have monetized their positions of access significantly, none more so than Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his wife, Secretary of the Transportation, Elaine Chao (a post he secured for her under Donald Trump.)
When he came to Congress in the 1980s, McConnell’s salary was $75,100, and he’s basically been doing ‘government work’ since then: His net worth now is estimated at well over $30 million. Since Chao took office at the Dept. of Transportation in ’17, she’s been repeatedly scrutinized for moving all manner of federal contracts to Kentucky in service to her husband’s political ambitions and to her own family — including Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds from the first round of relief legislation. So Trump finally, in May 2020, simply fired the Inspector General who headed the inquiries and installed Mitch McConnell’s pick.
At that very moment, the Democrats’ were putting the legislation for the next round of PEU benefits to American workers stranded between abject poverty and a deadly virus on McConnell’s desk. He never looked at it. Instead, he picked a new ‘acting’ Inspector General for Trump to install who would drop the investigations into Chao, but he never even tried to shepherd his caucus into constructing a legislative response.
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But the money for extended benefits is not McConnell’s or Trump’s or the GOP’s real concern. They apparently have the cash flow to bail out cronies who’ve squandered billions; to price gouge the government for employees forced to stay at Trump properties or to prop up the rhetoric around that stupid ‘wall’ — when the only wall actually getting built is the one around the White House — or to send ventilators to Russia using Covid-19 relief funds. This after swearing we didn’t have ventilators in the National Stockpile when Americans needed them. This all while Trump had already been informed repeatedly that Vladimir Putin was paying bounties to Taliban operatives specifically for killing American troops. Public companies took so much money from the PPP in the first round of relief benefits that none was left for thousands of small businesses. Hell, Trump even gave Tom Brady a million bucks in PPP and he’s worth over $200 million.
What they are really terrified of is that the bill is coming do on their ongoing and essential fiscal ‘rape’ of the Federal Treasury. They’ve been able to move money around, rearrange the deck chairs and funnel it out pretty much at will and now ‘we the people’ want OUR MONEY back. And we really don’t want to hear their excuses anymore.
“It is the payroll tax that funds Social Security and partly funds Medicare.”
As I write, Congress has failed to pass new relief legislation. In yet another hackneyed campaign stunt, Trump is bellowing about sending Americans ‘assistance’ via Executive Order. Setting aside the fact that that is unconstitutional and will surely be challenged in court, it amounts to pocket change. But Trump is too clever for his own good. He thinks ‘we the people’ will be so awestruck by his beneficence that we will overlook the poison pill: He is attempting to cut the payroll tax by fiat, thus triggering the unraveling of Medicare and Social Security.
Popular among Republican ideologues, this is what Trump’s sudden feigned concern is really all about. But it is a mindbogglingly bizarre re-election gambit given that even his most ardent base is devoted to those ‘entitlements.’ That on top of his brazen attempts to destroy the mode by which those same Trump loyalists receive those benefits — never mind vote — the post office, one has to wonder how he envisions this helping him get re-elected.
The darkest, most cynical and insidious narrative underlying the GOP’s failure to negotiate a deal for this second round of pandemic benefits is truly sobering: It is that the reason Republicans are prepared to force American workers into the streets, to starve and to get sick is because displaced adults are less likely to vote in November. Trump’s run the party so deep into the proverbial shitter that they see no other way than to hijack the election by simply killing voters.
I predict that they’ve also misjudged the efficacy of that depraved maneuver though, because I proffer that Americans, led by embattled essential works, are going to crawl on their bellies across broken glass, dragging their ventilators behind them to vote against Trump and his posse of depraved sycophants and their ever devoted ‘Karens.’