An Extra $600 a Week Kept Many Jobless Workers Afloat. Now What Will They Do?


They also have some savings — a comfort when more than 40 percent of American households lack cash to cover an unexpected $400 expense. That cushion was crucial last week when the Gards’ air-conditioning system suddenly died. The repair gobbled up what would have been a few months’ worth of mortgage payments.

Delaying wasn’t an option, Ms. Gard explained: “Georgia in August.”

Without further information on when she might be rehired, Ms. Gard has started updating her résumé, and reaching out to recruiters and contacts on LinkedIn.

Then her school district announced that all teaching would be online in the fall. Her mother, 71, used to pitch in to care for her children, 2 and 5, but Ms. Gard worries about the health risk, so child care is another issue.

“I have the month of August to figure out where September’s mortgage payment and everything else will come from,” she said.

As the economy falters, pain is everywhere. Assistance, though, is more uneven.

Normally, individual states run their own unemployment programs, setting different benefit levels and eligibility rules. On average, benefits replace about 45 percent of a worker’s weekly paycheck. Freelance, self-employed and part-time workers, who didn’t qualify for state benefits but received funds through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, tended to get a much smaller fraction of their previous earnings.

That is where the extra $600 a week came in. It was meant to make up for lost income and ensure recipients had enough money to buy food, pay rent, keep the lights on, afford medical prescriptions or make car payments. Lawmakers settled on a lump sum as the quickest and easiest way to deliver assistance — given the limited capabilities of already overwhelmed state unemployment networks.

The money was crucial in supplying the economy with fuel to keep the engine going, economists say. Like any one-size-fits-all measure, however, the $600 supplement fell outside the target zone in many instances. Roughly two-thirds of workers ended up with more income than they would have earned had they not lost their jobs. The windfalls angered critics who warned of ballooning government expenditures and disincentives to work — despite a severe shortage of available jobs.



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