California lawmakers ask Newsom to act immediately on unemployment claims

From Los Angeles Times:

More than half the members of the California Legislature called on Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday to immediately begin paying unemployment benefits to many of the more than 1 million jobless workers whose claims have been stalled in the system as the state works to clear a months-long backlog.

In a letter to governor, a bipartisan group of 61 lawmakers issued a series of requests for immediate action at the state Employment Development Department, including calls for the agency to ensure service representatives do not hang up on callers who they can’t help, and implement an automatic call-back system to quickly respond to those who cannot reach a live operator. The lawmakers also called for the agency to expedite its approval of unemployment benefits by retroactively certifying claims and resolving issues later in the process.

“In our fifth month of the pandemic, with so many constituents yet to receive a single unemployment payment, it’s clear that EDD is failing California,” said the letter to Newsom. “Millions of our constituents have had no income for months. As Californians wait for answers from EDD, they have depleted their life savings, have gone into extreme debt, and are in deep panic as they figure out how to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.”

EDD spokeswoman Loree Levy said the agency is reviewing the letter and will provide a response as soon as possible. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter’s recommendations.

The letter, which was organized by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), was signed by 49 members of the Assembly and 12 members of the state Senate, including Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, and sent a week after Newsom announced the creation of a “strike team” to reform EDD and complete all unanswered claims by the end of September.

The governor said the claims are from those who may be eligible for payment but require more information. Many claims are “pending resolution” because they have issues to resolve, including verification of the identity of the filer, he said.

The legislators said in their letter that the backlog should be cleared sooner than the end of September and that, in the interim, Californians with stalled claims should receive some portion of their benefits to help them make ends meet.

Read the complete article here.

Coronavirus relief talks restart as jobless aid divides GOP and Democrats

From today’s CNBC News Online:

Democrats and Trump administration officials will sit down again Monday afternoon to try to hammer out an elusive deal on a fifth coronavirus aid bill. 

Negotiators House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows plan to meet at 1 p.m. ET as the sides find themselves far from an agreement. The discussions will follow Sunday’s staff-level talks on a package to help rein in a raging pandemic and jolt a flailing U.S. economy. 

The effort has gained urgency after a $600 per week federal unemployment benefit expired at the end of July. The extra aid has helped tens of millions of jobless people afford food and housing as the economy reels during the outbreak. 

Pelosi has indicated the sides made more progress in talks over the weekend than they did in discussions last week. Asked Monday how far apart Democrats and Republicans are, the speaker said she would wait to see how Monday’s talks go. 

“Well, let’s see when we meet today,” she told CNN. “It’s absolutely essential that we reach agreement.” 

Disagreements over how to structure unemployment insurance have stood in the way of a deal. Democrats have insisted on continuing the $600 weekly sum. They passed a House bill in May to extend the aid into next year.

Republicans, who questioned the need for more pandemic relief before they released a proposal last week, want to slash the extra benefit to $200 per week through September. They would then set the aid at 70% wage replacement.

Read the complete article here.

Senate GOP, White House propose cuts to unemployment relief checks

From today’s ABC News Online:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a new coronavirus relief plan on the Senate floor after Senate Republican leaders and the White House appear to have overcome their differences.

“I hope this strong proposal will occasion a real response, not partisan cheap shots. Not the predictable, tired old rhetoric as though these were ordinary times, and the nation could afford ordinary politics,” McConnell said Monday afternoon in a floor speech.

But Democrats already don’t agree with the Republicans’ plan, which includes a $200 flat-rate, short-term extension to federal unemployment benefits as opposed to $600 a week, a senior source familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News, since it will take time before states’ systems can shift to accommodate any federal benefit changes.

Following McConnell’s floor speech, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized the Republican Party for “wasting precious time” in the months since Congress passed its first coronavirus relief package, arguing “the White House and Senate Republicans couldn’t get their act together” in the time since.

“Ten weeks after Democrats passed a comprehensive bill through the House, Senate Republicans couldn’t even agree on what to throw in on the wall,” Schumer said, adding that support for the plan presented Monday is still not clear. “Not only do we not know if the president supports any of these proposals, we don’t even know if Senate Republicans fully support.”

Republican sources familiar with the matter told ABC News later Monday that there could be as much as half the Senate GOP conference voting against the bill.

Read the complete article here.

California unemployment falls, but virus surge likely to reverse job gains

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

California added 558,200 jobs from mid-May to mid-June and state unemployment fell from 16.4% to 14.9% — but don’t start celebrating yet. The numbers don’t account for the resurgence of COVID-19 cases throughout the U.S. and in California in the last half of June or the retreat in plans to reopen the economy. The numbers were released Friday morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which slightly revised the earlier jobless figure from 16.3% to 16.4%.

Leisure and hospitality added the most jobs, at 292,500, benefiting from statewide reopenings of bars and dine-in restaurants, according to the California Employment Development Department. As of mid-June, that sector had regained more than a third of job losses from March and April. Construction jobs had the highest percentage gain, clawing back 68% of jobs lost during the pandemic. Government suffered the largest decline in jobs, at 36,300.

But the dial-back is bound to reverse a positive trend in rehiring as bars, restaurants, hotels, airlines and thousands of other affected businesses scale back already reduced operations or remain closed, said Michael S. Bernick, an attorney at Duane Morris and former head of the California Employment Development Department.

“In some cases, workers rehired in June have been laid off [again] within a short time,” he said. “In other cases, companies decide they can no longer hang on. Every day brings reports of businesses announcing they are closing permanently in California.” Still, he said, the job gain is the highest in the nation, and probably the largest monthly jobs gain since World War II.

But any recovery will be jerky. The nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute said that due to the latest rise in COVID-19 cases, “Layoffs are going to pick up again as people are laid off for a second time, and hires will likely slow as well.

“Even with June’s rebound, which followed a small upturn in May, payroll employment in California stands 1.9 million lower than February. This represents an 11% drop, worse than the 9.6% loss for the nation as a whole,” said Lynn Reaser, economist at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. She noted that California’s current unemployment is nearly four times its 4% year-ago rate and well above the 11.1% national rate.

Read the complete article here.

Federal government is weighing an infrastructure push to create jobs

From today’s New York Times:

Fears are growing that the global downturn could be far more punishing and long lasting than initially feared — potentially enduring into next year, and even beyond — as governments intensify restrictions on business to halt the spread of the pandemic, and fear of the virus impedes consumer-led economic growth.

“This is already shaping up as the deepest dive on record for the global economy for over 100 years,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a Harvard economist and co-author of “This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly,” a history of financial crises. “Everything depends on how long it lasts, but if this goes on for a long time, it’s certainly going to be the mother of all financial crises.”

Stocks on Wall Street tumbled, with the S&P 500 closing down more than 4 4 percent, bringing its decline over two days to 6 percent, as investors braced for worsening economic conditions ahead.

The economic readings continue to worsen as well. On Wednesday, surveys of manufacturing and factory activity in the United States, Europe and Japan showed activity slowing to levels not seen in a decade or more. In the United States, factory orders and employment measures fell to their lowest since 2009, the Institute for Supply Management said.

In Washington, there was growing concern that the $2 trillion stimulus package enacted last week could be insufficient. Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as President Trump, are increasingly looking toward enacting a huge new infrastructure plan that could create thousands of jobs.

Read the complete article here.

Some workers won’t qualify for some unemployment benefits in relief package

From today’s CNBC News Online:

The $2 trillion coronavirus relief package President Donald Trump signed into law Friday significantly expands unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans.

The law pays laid-off and furloughed workers an extra $600 a week, for up to four months, and extends existing state benefits by 13 weeks. It also offers jobless benefits to previously ineligible groups, such as gig workers and freelancers. Nearly 3.3 million people filed first-time claims for unemployment last week — shattering the previous record, set in 1982, by around 2.6 million people, according to the Labor Department.

“It truly is, in a lot of ways, a very generous package,” said Chris Moran, a partner in the labor and employment practice group at law firm Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia. Yet, some could receive smaller payments than others or miss out entirely. Here are some of those groups.

Tip workers

Workers who derive a big chunk of their paychecks from tips, like waiters and bartenders, may get smaller unemployment checks than they hope to. It largely depends on whether an employer reports those tips as income. States determine the size of unemployment checks based on a worker’s prior wages, generally over the last four quarters.

Gig, self-employed workers without pay records

While gig and self-employed workers are newly eligible for unemployment benefits, they may not qualify if they don’t have the proper work and pay documentation. This will largely depend on forthcoming guidance from the Labor Department about the kinds of acceptable documentation, and states’ interpretation of that guidance — currently among the biggest wild cards in the unemployment expansion, experts said.

Read the complete article here.

SOTU 2014 focuses on jobs, fairness

President Obama’s State of the Union Address last week highlighted a number of themes that focused on creating more opportunities for working Americans by streamlining the tax code, providing financial support for small business innovation, and making older industries like auto manufacturing and newer industries like vaccine manufacturing more competitive in the global economy.

Underlying all this was a promise to get the country back on track after it went off the rails in 2008 from a financial collapse that was precipitated by poor financial oversight, risky investment, and gross mismanagement of the nation’s financial and banking sectors. Obama claimed that the recession was making several trends worse, including growing income inequality between the wealthy and the rest of Americans. Although the President called on Congress to end its politics of obstruction and act to reform a sluggish economic recovery, he indicated that he didn’t expect much from the Republican Party, and he would move ahead without them wherever executive orders could be made on these issues in place of substantial legislation.

Here is an excerpt of Obama’s SOTU 2014 that focuses on the theme of economic recovery and fairness:

And in the coming months — (applause) — in the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together. Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want, for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all, the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead in America. (Applause.)

Now, let’s face it: That belief has suffered some serious blows. Over more than three decades, even before the Great Recession hit, massive shifts in technology and global competition had eliminated a lot of good, middle-class jobs, and weakened the economic foundations that families depend on.

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.

So our job is to reverse these trends.

Read the full text and watch the video of President Obama’s SOTU speech here.

Fed Chair calls out Congress for fiscal policy frustrating recovery

FED Chair Ben Bernanke is widely believed to be stepping down at the end of his second term in January. Today he appeared before Congress to give his last biannual update on the economy to the House Financial Services Committee, reaffirming the Fed’s monetary policies but warning that federal fiscal policy remains the single largest obstacle to revitalized growth.

He noted that federal spending cuts of the kind supported by the GOP are reducing growth this year by about 1.5 percentage points.

“The risks remain that tight federal fiscal policy will restrain economic growth over the next few quarters by more than we currently expect, or that the debate concerning other fiscal policy issues, such as the status of the debt ceiling, will evolve in a way that could hamper the recovery.”

Read his remarks to Congress here.

DOL reports jobless claims down, as workers give up looking for work

The Department of Labor announced that jobless claims were down from 9 to 8.04 percent in November, the single largest decline since March 2009. The fraction translates into roughly 120,000 new jobs created by private employers. However, the report grimly noted that the decline in jobless claims was also partly due to workers giving up looking for jobs in the grim labor market, particularly women.

The report also revised higher the average number of jobs created each month to 143,00 over the three-month period going back to September, an average that is higher than the historic low from May to August, in which anemic job growth signaled the unwillingness of investors and firms to take on new workers at the height of the European debt crisis and the earthquake in Japan that disrupted shipping and supply chains globally.

This November job “rally” can be traced in large part to retailers who added temp workers during the holiday season, so it is unclear whether there is cause for celebration as the transient nature of these 50,000 jobs may become all too apparent in January when retailers let go of their seasonal workers. (Can we expect a rise in jobless claims after the holidays?) In addition, this year’s record-breaking figures by retailers for Black Friday also improved prospects that consumers are more willing to spend in the hopes of a brighter economic future.

However, while economists are claiming that the labor report shows the economy is “improving at a faster clip,” the real news on the ground is that anemic job growth is hampering the economic recovery as workers without jobs spend less on goods and services and firms continue to find ways of cutting workers in order to bolster their bottom lines. The seasonal affective disorder known as “holiday shopping” is only a temporary respite from the really bad news, which is that the real wages of Americans are down and their credit card debt is on the rise again.

These are “not” the signs of a healthily recovering economy, but given the dismal performance and prospects of economic growth in the near future, economists, politicians and investors alike are holding onto this bare bit of news that jobless claims are down, literally, by .06 percent. This is an embarrassing piece of evidence that sound economic policy, which must include job creation (thank you very much, Republicans, for voting against jobs for Americans), has been substituted for the rather conventional approach of grasping at straws in a rising flood.