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Many Americans view Labor Day with dread. This is when some 7.5 million of them will stop receiving their unemployment benefits.
That number is more than five times the 1.3 million people who lost aid in December 2013 as the country moved away from the Great Recession.
Although the economy has improved since the public health crisis at a steady pace, the United States still lost more than 5.5 million jobs since February 2020. And the rapid spread of the delta variant threatens making it harder for people to get back to work, with the country currently averaging 100,000 new cases of Covid per day.
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As a result, Andrew Stettner, senior researcher at the Century Foundation and national unemployment expert, is sounding the alarm bells about the consequences of the end of benefits next month. CNBC spoke with him last week. The interview below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CNBC: How have unemployment benefits changed during the pandemic?
LIKE: Congress decided to cover a large number of people who were not normally eligible for benefits, including concert workers and freelancers, and people who could not work because they had to care for their children. with the school closed. We have also increased the amount of benefits.
CNBC: What has been the impact?
LIKE: These changes are the unsung hero of the economic recovery. Millions of workers have been made redundant, but we have not seen an increase in poverty. And that has kept consumer spending strong and stable.
CNBC: What do you expect on Labor Day when these changes go away?
LIKE: When you meet someone who is homeless, often one of the first things they say to you is, “It all started to happen when my unemployment benefits ran out. We are putting a lot of families at risk.
CNBC: Why do you think September is too early to end benefits?
LIKE: The last jobs report was very strong, but that was before the delta. We also know that the fastest growing jobs are in the leisure and hospitality industry. These jobs do not pay very well and also require standing. Not everyone can do it, and not everyone wants to do it when even with the vaccine you could still get this disease. And people have only been able to look for work for a few months, when they got vaccinated in April or May. We were in a very deep hole, and it will take time to get out of it.
CNBC: What do you think of the argument that maintaining benefits contributes to a labor shortage?
LIKE: We don’t see this in any data. States that have already eliminated benefits do not gain more employees than States that have kept them. People know the benefits are temporary. Even if you extend them for a few more months, it’s a few thousand dollars more, which is very different from a job that could last you 10 years. Unemployment gives you time to pay your basic expenses, to be able to put gasoline in the car and food on the table, while you try to get back to work.
CNBC: Who will be most affected by the end of aid?
LIKE: Black workers have been really impacted by this Covid-19 pandemic. As things start to pick up, you see white workers being rehired at a higher rate. Also caregivers, people who have lost their jobs because their children’s school has closed or a family member has fallen ill, many of them still need to find a new job.
CNBC: For those who still don’t have a job for this deadline, any advice?
LIKE: You don’t have to do it alone. You should take advantage of the job search assistance resources provided to you by your state. You can retrain yourself. You may in fact receive an extension of benefits if you participate in a recycling program.
Also, if you can’t find a job in September, don’t be too proud to ask for other forms of help, be it health insurance or nutritional assistance, so that you and your children can feed you. It’s not your fault; it is a seismic experiment.