We need strong policy now to avert a depression, this week in the war on workers

We know that unemployment is sky-high, but that’s not the end of the story. The Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz sounds a warning that, if lawmakers don’t act, we’re looking at a depression.

“If the federal government provides sufficient aid during this crisis so that people’s income doesn’t drop dramatically (even if they have been unable to work), so that businesses stay afloat (even if they have been totally or significantly shuttered), and so that state and local governments whose tax revenues are plummeting are not forced to make drastic cuts that will hamstring the economy, then those furloughed workers could get back to their prior jobs and the recovery could be rapid because confidence and demand would be relatively high,” she writes. “But if the federal government doesn’t act, then those furloughs will turn into permanent layoffs and the country will face an extended period of high unemployment that will do sweeping and unrelenting damage to the economy—and the people and businesses in it.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Michael Leachman sounds a similar note with an eye to state budgets, writing “Federal aid that policymakers provided in earlier COVID-19 packages isn’t nearly enough. Only about $65 billion is readily available to narrow state budget shortfalls. Treasury Department guidance now says that states may use some of the aid in the CARES Act of March to cover payroll costs for public safety and public health workers, but it’s unclear how much of state shortfalls that might cover; existing aid likely won’t cover much more than $100 billion of state shortfalls, leaving nearly $665 billion unaddressed. States hold $75 billion in their rainy day funds, a historically high amount but far too little to meet the unprecedented challenge they face. And, even if states use all of it to cover their shortfalls, that still leaves them about $600 billion short.”

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on May 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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