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  • Unemployment claims, according to the government, hit roughly 26.5 million since mid-March as a direct result of the new coronavirus pandemic.

    Unemployment claims, according to the government, hit roughly 26.5 million since mid-March as a direct result of the new coronavirus pandemic. | Photo: AFP

Published 28 April 2020
Opinion

The average weekly unemployment payment for a laid-off worker will rise to around US$978 once the temporary US$600-per-week increase.

More than half of all United States workers could make more in unemployment benefits than they did at their low-wage jobs before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

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US Unemployment Applications Reach 26.4 Million Amid Pandemic

"Qualified workers will receive the government payout every week through July, and in most cases, the combined US$978 weekly payout amounts to better pay than what many workers received before the crisis hit," the report reads. 

The average weekly unemployment payment for a laid-off worker will rise to around US$978 once the temporary US$600-per-week increase from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act kicks in. The added payment is in addition to the unemployment benefits states already provide, which vary widely.

In comparison, “labor department statistics show half of full-time workers earned US$957 or less a week in the first quarter of 2020." 

The data thus raised the debate between progressives and conservatives of whether this means that benefits should be lowered or overall wages raised across the country. "Maybe we should pay people more," New York’s Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response to the article. 

Across the aisle, a group of Republicans led by Senators Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse threatened to delay passage of the CARES Act over concerns that the expansion of unemployment benefits was so generous that it would discourage people from working.

For Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project, the question is not if it’s too much or too little but “why underpaid workers are being expected to labor for too little money in the first place,” adding that "wages have stagnated for decades."

Meanwhile, the U.S. is facing the highest unemployment figures since the Great Depression in 1929. Unemployment claims, according to the government, hit roughly 26.5 million since mid-March as a direct result of the new coronavirus pandemic.

Yet the real numbers could be even higher because state unemployment offices around the country have been overwhelmed with claims, and some people have been unable to get through by telephone or website. 

Also “claims figures in recent weeks don't include people who aren't eligible for regular unemployment insurance but are nevertheless out of work due to the virus—people like independent contractors, those who had to quit work to care for a child whose school closed, and those who don't have long enough work histories," Economic Policy Institute (EPI) senior economists Heidi Shierholz and Elise Gould commented. 

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