If Congress doesn't extend enhanced unemployment benefits — that $600 per week meant to help Americans who lost jobs due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus — new research estimates more than 5 million jobs could be lost, including more than 191,000 in Ohio.
Heidi Shierholz, senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute, said the enhanced unemployment benefit has helped millions of households pay for food, rent and other essentials. And she believes cutting off assistance will make racial inequality worse.
"Because Black and Brown communities are suffering more from this pandemic, both physically and economically, as a result of historic and continuing systemic racism," Shierholz said.
Workers of color who file for unemployment are much more likely to have their claims rejected, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. Its research found white workers have received 78% of all unemployment dollars — compared with 20% for Black and Latino workers.
Critics of extending the benefits believe they create a disincentive to work, since some low-wage workers make more on unemployment than they did on the job.
A new Yale University study found a lack of child care and the risk of contracting COVID-19 are primary factors that prevent most people from returning to work — not the amount of their unemployment checks. Shierholz said with joblessness at historic levels, now is not the time to cut assistance to families.
"Right now, there are 14 million more unemployed workers than there are job openings. So millions will remain jobless, no matter what they do," she said. "You cannot incentivize people to get jobs that aren't there."
Nearly 30 million Americans currently are receiving unemployment insurance. The previous high, during the Great Recession, was roughly 12 million.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled a debate this week on federal unemployment benefits that expired Saturday.