- The government reported that nearly 3 million people filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total number to more than 36 million. That does not include the nearly 10 million who have exited the workforce entirely.
- Meanwhile, people all over the country have been unable to get unemployment benefits because systems are so bogged down.
- Fed Chair Jerome Powell said the downturn was “without modern precedent,” and warned it could create long-lasting damage if lawmakers do not provide more financial help.
- While Democrats have proposed a new $3 trillion stimulus package, Republicans and President Trump have said it is too soon after the last stimulus bill.
Unemployment Numbers Rise
The Labor Department reported on Thursday that nearly 3 million people filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total number of claims in the last two months to more than 36 million.
While the weekly count has been decreasing steadily since late March, the number of people out of work is actually a lot higher than what is reflected in those reports.
Last week, the Labor Department said that the actual unemployment rate for April may have been close to 20%, due to issues with the ways workers are classified. Their official count clocked it at just under 15%.
That is because the official unemployment rate only looks at the active labor force— the number of people working compared with the number of people who are looking for work or who have been “temporarily” laid off and expect to get their job back.
But that does not account for individuals who have exited the workforce altogether, like people who stopped working because they do not feel safe or those who are not actively searching for work because the job market is bad right now.
According to the Labor Department’s jobs report for April, 9.5 million people who were working in March had left the workforce by May. That’s nearly 10 million people who are not being counted in updated unemployment numbers, and if they were included, it would put the current count at 46 million.
Issues With Unemployment Systems
Even for the people who are still in the workforce and who are still trying to get unemployment benefits, there are still a ton of problems.
Numerous states have huge backlogs of unemployment claims, and people all over the country have reported that they have been unable to even reach their state agencies because the systems are so bogged down.
As of last week, 20 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have not paid out any benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance that Congress passed as part of the stimulus bill to help freelancers, self-employed people, and other workers who normally would not be eligible for state unemployment benefits.
According to a poll for The New York Times conducted earlier this month by SurveyMonkey, more than half of the people who applied for unemployment benefits in recent weeks were unsuccessful.
In some states where people have been approved for those benefits, actually getting them has also been a slow process. In Florida, for example, less than half of all people with certified unemployment claims have actually started receiving benefits.
Jerome Powell’s Warning
Unfortunately, these are not problems that are simply going to start going away as more and more states begin to ease restrictions.
While more reopening means more rehiring and more people going back to work, most economists believe that it will take years to get the joblessness rate back to where it was before the pandemic.
As a result, many experts and officials say that the government needs to do more to help people and prop up the economy, like Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, who gave an incredibly stark warning about the state of the economy during a teleconference Wednesday.
“The scope and speed of this downturn are without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since the second world war,” he said.
Powell also warned that the current downturn could create serious and long-lasting damage to the economy if lawmakers do not provide more financial aid to address joblessness and prevent widespread bankruptcies.
Powell specifically said that he is worried about a domino effect situation with joblessness and spending. For example, if more and more consumers keep losing jobs, they spend less. That hurts restaurants, gyms, retail stores, and other businesses, which could force them to close, thus losing even more jobs.
While Powell applauded Congress and President Donald Trump for passing the nearly $2 trillion stimulus bill, he still said it is absolutely necessary that they do more.
“The recovery may take some time to gather momentum,” he said. “Additional fiscal support could be costly, but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.”
Debate Over New Stimulus Bill
Powell’s remarks came just one day days after House Democrats proposed a $3 trillion stimulus package aimed at providing more relief to struggling Americans.
Among other things, the proposal includes another round of stimulus checks, a large chunk of aid to states and municipalities, and more money for the Paycheck Protection Program.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) immediately said the legislation was dead on arrival.
While Senate Republicans generally do agree that another stimulus package will be needed, they also think it is too soon after the last bill. They say the government should wait to see the economic benefits from all the states that have begun reopening.
That is also something that has been echoed by President Trump, who recently has said he expects to see a dramatic economic rebound as more restrictions are lifted.
However, it is currently unclear how big of an impact these reopenings have had on joblessness, at least so far. According to Labor Department data, even some states that rushed to open back up like Florida and Georgia still saw an increase in unemployment claims from last week.
There are also other issues that reopenings could cause when it comes to unemployment benefits, like the fact that some states are now taking a hardline approach to who gets benefits.
For example, Nebraska’s Labor Department posted a notice online saying failure to return to work “could be considered fraud” and potentially disqualify people from receiving benefits.
In South Carolina, workers are not eligible for unemployment if they do not work because they are isolating or have children to look after while schools are closed.
Those kinds of policies create more hurdles for people who desperately need help. It also puts some workers in a situation where they are forced to either stay home and not make money or work in potentially unsafe conditions.
That on its own is likely to put further strain on the economy, but it also risks more spread, which many experts have warned could undo all of the progress made and hurt the economy even more in the long run.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Guardian)
Donald Trump and Eldest Three Children Hit With Fraud Lawsuit From New York AG
AG Letitia James says that the former president “falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself.”
Lawsuit Filed Against Trump
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on Wednesday that she filed a civil lawsuit against former president Donald Trump and his three eldest children over allegations that they fraudulently inflated asset valuations within the Trump Organization.
Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump are all listed alongside their father in the lawsuit. Executives Jeffrey McConney and Allen Weisselberg, the latter of whom recently pled guilty to tax crimes, are also listed alongside other Trump businesses.
“Donald Trump, with the help of his children…and senior executives at the Trump Organization, falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to induce banks to lend money to the Trump Organization on more favorable terms than would otherwise have been available to the company, to satisfy continuing loan covenants, to induce insurers to provide insurance coverage for higher limits and at lower premiums, and to gain tax benefits, among other things,” a press release announcing the lawsuit claimed.
The Attorney General’s office claims that between 2011 and 2021, Trump and the Trump Organization made 200 false and misleading claims about asset values on annual financial statements.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in a State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
“The complaint demonstrates that Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself and to cheat the system, thereby cheating all of us,” James said while announcing the complaint.
Her office is seeking to permanently ban Trump and his children from serving as an officer or director in any New York corporation and to bar Trump and his organization from entering into any New York real estate acquisitions for five years. The office is also seeking to recover $250 million in penalty payments, among other forms of relief.
The Office of the Attorney General has also referred the matter to the federal attorneys in New York and to the IRS for criminal investigation.
“There aren’t two sets of laws for people in this nation: former presidents must be held to the same standards as everyday Americans,” James added in a statement on social media.
“Trump’s crimes are not victimless,” she continued. “When the well-connected and powerful break the law to get more money than they are entitled to, it reduces resources available to working people, small businesses, and taxpayers.”
Trump Allegedly Inflated Key Assets
According to James’ release, Trump “made known through Mr. Weisselberg that he wanted his net worth on his statements to increase every year.”
“And the statements were the vehicle by which his net worth was fraudulently inflated by billions of dollars year after year,” the release continued.
Among the assets Trump and his organization allegedly inflated was the Trump Tower Triplex, an apartment Trump allegedly claimed was 30,000 square feet when it is just around 11,000 square feet. Because of its ballooned size, the property was valued at $327 million in 2015, roughly three times as much as the sole apartment in New York City to ever sell for over $100 million at the time.
For further comparison, the highest sale for a listing in Trump Tower at the time was only $16 million.
Trump also allegedly claimed Mar-a-Lago was valued as high as $739 million based on the “false premise” that the property could be developed and sold for residential use. The lawsuit claims that Trump actually signed deeds donating those rights, limiting the property’s use to a social club. James and her office claim its value would fall closer to $75 million.
Inflated Clauations Cannot Be “Excused”
“The inflated asset valuations in the Statements cannot be brushed aside or excused as merely the result of exaggeration or good faith estimation about which reasonable real estate professionals may differ,” the lawsuit states, adding that instead, they are the result of improper methodology intentionally meant to falsely boost Trump’s net worth.
The investigation into Trump’s alleged fraud began nearly three years ago, and the former president has repeatedly called it a politically motivated witch hunt. His attorney, Alina Habba, doubled down on that rhetoric in a statement Wednesday.
“Today’s filing is neither focused on the facts nor the law – rather, it is solely focused on advancing the Attorney General’s political agenda,” Habba said. “We are confident that our judicial system will not stand for this unchecked abuse of authority, and we look forward to defending our client against each and every one of the Attorney General’s meritless claims.”
For his part, Trump has blasted the lawsuit on Truth Social, calling James a “fraud” and a “crime-fighting disaster.”
Trump previously tried to impede the probe but was ultimately ordered by a judge to sit for a deposition and turn over subpoenaed documents. Reports say he pled the fifth hundreds of times during his deposition.
See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (The Washington Post) (Reuters)
Hurricane Fiona Causes “Catastrophic” Damage in Puerto Rico, Leaving Many Without Power
While power has been restored to some, more than a million remain without it as continued rainfall, flooding, and landslides are expected to cause further damage across the island.
Hurricane Fiona Wreaks Havoc
Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico Sunday, bringing heavy rains, flooding, and landslides, while also knocking out power for the entire island and killing at least one person.
Photos and videos posted on social media show floodwaters consuming major streets and engulfing cars. Some pictures show an entire bridge flooded, making it impassible. Other footage shows a different bridge entirely uprooted and a metal barrier ripped away from the road and floating down a river of floodwater.
Officials have said conditions are still too dangerous to fully evaluate the extent of the crisis. In remarks to the public, Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi, described the damage as “catastrophic.”
He asserted that the storm has been one of the most significant since Hurricane Maria — which hit the island almost exactly 5 years ago to the day — killing more than 3,000 people, leaving many without power for months, and causing destruction that the island is still recovering from.
Pierluisi noted that Puerto Rico has received over 30 inches of rain and that some areas have even gotten more rain than during Hurricane Maria. As of Monday afternoon, the National Gaurd has led 30 rescue operations so far, saving more than 1,000 stranded residents in 25 municipalities, according to the governor.
Pierluisi also added that more than 2,000 people were in the island’s 128 shelters, with officials further saying there is plenty of shelter space for those who need it. On Sunday, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, which will allow federal agencies to coordinate disaster relief.
Continued Issues As Storm Rages On
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s water authority has confirmed that just over 70% of the island is still without water. According to poweroutage.us, more than 1.3 million customers were still without power as of Monday morning.
The power company LUMA also stated that electricity had been restored to around 100,000 customers over the course of Sunday night, though it previously warned that the full restoration of power could take several days as the storm has created “incredibly challenging” conditions.
While Hurricane Fiona has passed through Puerto Rico, having now made landfall in the Dominican Republic, officials and experts say that heavy rains and further flooding are still to be expected for the next few days.
The National Weather Service has warned that “life-threatening and catastrophic flooding” as well as mudslides and landslides are expected to continue across the island. As a result, Pierluisi has urged Puerto Ricans Monday to remain home and in shelters so that officials can continue to respond to others in need.
He also noted that the areas most impacted by the hurricane include the southern part of the island, the southwest, and the mountains.
After moving through the Dominican Republic, Hurricane Fiona is expected to head towards Turks and Caicos Tuesday. The National Hurricane Center has said that the storm will continue to grow and by Wednesday, it is set to become a major hurricane — which means a Category 3 or higher.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
Government Aid Cut Child Poverty in Half During Pandemic, Data Shows
The reduction occurred similarly across geography, race, family type, and citizenship status.
Largest Drop in Half a Century
The United States’s child poverty rate sank to the lowest level on record last year, primarily thanks to pandemic relief measures and other government programs, according to an analysis of census data released Tuesday.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s supplementary poverty measure, which accounts for safety net programs and tax credits as well as regional differences in the cost of living.
From around 11% in 2019, the percentage of kids living below the poverty line fell to 9.7% in 2020 and 5.2% the year after that.
In just two years, nearly 5.5 million kids were lifted from poverty, marking an almost 60% drop in the child poverty rate.
The Center’s researchers gave most credit to the federal government’s numerous interventions in the economy, from stimulus payments and the expanded child tax credit to eviction moratoriums and expanded unemployment insurance.
Without government intervention, poverty in 2020 would have experienced its second-largest recorded increase, the Center claimed, but instead, it underwent the largest single-year decline in over half a century.
Especially impactful was the expanded child tax credit, which sent up to $300 per child to households with children every month between July and December 2021.
According to the analysis, this policy alone pulled nearly three million kids out of poverty.
But the tax credit’s expansion expired at the end of the year despite Democrats’ efforts to prolong it with Biden’s signature Build Back Better bill, which was blocked by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who reportedly told colleagues he was concerned that families might use the payments to buy drugs.
Poverty Before COVID
Child poverty has fallen by 59% since 1993, when it sat at around 28%, according to another analysis published Sunday by The New York Times and the nonpartisan group Child Trends.
They found that the decline occurred across all 50 states and D.C., as well as in different levels of poverty.
It similarly affected nearly all subgroups of children, — white, Black, Asian and Hispanic, single-parent and two-parent, immigrant and non-immigrant.
The causes driving the pre-pandemic decline included general economic improvement — low unemployment, a higher labor force participation rate among single mothers, and growing state minimum wages — but the researchers pinned government welfare programs as the dominant factor.
They specifically mentioned the earned income tax credit, social security, unemployment insurance, and nutrition and housing assistance.
Despite the positive trend, more than eight million children still live below the poverty line, and that number excludes those who live just above it but still struggle to meet basic needs.
The current poverty line sits around $29,000 for a family of four in a location with typical living costs.
Moreover, disparities still persist, with Black and Latino children about three times as likely as their white peers to be poor.