Headlines: April 2, 2020
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6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the last week of March, a staggering figure, twice that from the week before and bringing the total figure for the month of March to over 10 million. Economists are speculating that the real figure may be much higher due to the lag time between losing one’s job and filing for unemployment. Additionally complaints abound of newly fired workers being unable to get through on the phone to file for benefits. Even if the government were to launch another aid package, some are speculating that the best-case scenario would be 20 million unemployed by this summer. Although the government has not yet released its official unemployment rate, it has likely jumped to 10%, up from 3.5% in February. In comparison, unemployment peaked at 10% during the worst month of the Great Recession of 2008-2009. The Washington Post explained, “Nations like Denmark chose to pay all workers so they would keep their jobs, even if they are at home. But the United States has largely left it up to companies to decide what to do.”
NBC explained that the figures from last week are the, “single largest mass-unemployment event ever recorded in the U.S.” Additionally workers at government unemployment offices are inundated and overwhelmed: “Representatives for state unemployment offices across the country say the shock of such numbers has hit their workers almost as hard as the people calling after losing their jobs — and they describe the wrenching emotional toll the work is taking on call center staff, many of whom are still required to come into the office.” Gig workers are particularly hard hit by the economic crash with several states including California, Illinois, and Washington saying there will be processing delays for aid for such workers. Senators Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer and Ron Wyden on Wednesday sent a letter to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia reminding him that, “it is absolutely imperative that the millions of Americans who are eligible for unemployment benefits receive every dollar to which they are entitled as quickly as possible.” The letter asked Scalia 11 questions about how he plans to address the massive onslaught of unemployed people applying for benefits including gig workers, reducing phone wait times, website crashes, and more.
Linked to the massive record-breaking unemployment figures is a hunger crisis developing across the country. According to The Guardian newspaper, “About one in three people seeking groceries at not-for-profit pantries last month have never previously needed emergency food aid.” The Director one of organization overseeing dozens of food banks told the paper, “I’ve been in this business over 30 years, and nothing compares to what we’re seeing now.”
The organizer of a work stoppage at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York who was fired this week has spoken out. Chris Smalls published an op-ed on Thursday addressing Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, “instead of firing me, protect your workers from coronavirus.” Bezos, who is the world’s richest man, has been accused of failing to protect his workers while Amazon orders are at an all-time high during the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr. Smalls explained his deep concern over the lack of worker protections as his colleagues began falling ill. He explained, “I did everything I could to close that warehouse down so that it could be properly sanitized but the government is too overwhelmed to act right now. That’s when I realized I would have to do something myself. I decided to start spreading awareness among the workers in the building.” After Monday’s walkout of workers, Smalls was fired. He ended his op-ed like this: “Mr Bezos, my message is simple. I don’t give a damn about your power. You think you’re powerful? We’re the ones that have the power. Without us working, what are you going to do? You’ll have no money. We have the power. We make money for you. Never forget that.”
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the globe, nearly 1 million infections have been confirmed. The World Health Organization chief Tedros Ghebreyesus put it into context saying, “Over the past five weeks, we have witnessed a near exponential growth in the number of new cases, reaching almost every country.” Cases of infection in the US continue to rise – faster than in many other nations. In terms of deaths, there are now more than 5,000 fatalities from the virus in the US and one fifth of that number died in just the past 24 hours. New data on the demographics of Covid-19 fatalities shows that men appear to be more susceptible to the disease than women. It is not yet clear if the difference is biological or the result of social norms based on gender. While women appear to be getting infected in roughly equal numbers to men, the death rate among men is higher. In Italy 70% of the deaths from the virus have been men. And the New York Times published a map of anonymous cell phone data across the country revealing where people have adhered to social distancing guidelines more strictly. According to the paper, “Americans in wide swaths of the West, Northeast and Midwest have complied with orders.” But in states like Florida, Texas, and Alabama more populations were commuting and traveling as normal.
American intelligence agencies are claiming that China undercounted the spread of the coronavirus and that it has done so intentionally. According to Bloomberg which spoke to three unnamed government officials, a report to the White House concluded that the official infection rate and death toll from China are deliberate undercounts. A Chinese state-run media figure responded that, “The U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion is an attempt to divert attention from surging deaths in the U.S. and other Western countries.” He explained that it would have been too difficult to fake the numbers and would have required serious coordination among several government agencies. Meanwhile the US state of Massachusetts has just received a massive shipment of 1 million of the critically important N95 masks from China, on board an NFL plane. Massachusetts Governor Charles Baker secured the shipment through an extraordinary series of pulling favors and navigating international diplomatic channels in the absence of adequate US federal government coordination.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the most trusted face of the White House Coronavirus Task Force has been receiving death threats. Dr. Fauci has had to repeatedly correct the President’s deceptive and dishonest claims on Covid-19 and for that he has become a serious target of Trump’s ardent base. The Washington Post pointed out that, “Last month, an article depicting him as an agent of the ‘deep state’ gained nearly 25,000 interactions on Facebook — meaning likes, comments and shares — as it was posted to large pro-Trump groups with titles such as ‘Trump Strong’ and ‘Tampa Bay Trump Club.’” The government has now increased his security detail.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced the creation of a new select committee to oversee the distribution of money from a massive $500 billion fund to stabilize corporations that was created as part of the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package. Pelosi explained that, “Where there’s money there’s also frequently mischief.” Trump had initially claimed he personally would oversee the distribution of the funds but then caved in to pressure to appoint an independent inspector general. He has since expressed that the IG’s scope would be limited.
And finally the Democratic National Convention that was scheduled for the month of July in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has been postponed to August. Many are calling for the in-person convention to be dropped altogether.