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Fed Says Lawmakers Need to Do More as Unemployment Numbers Grow

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  • 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)

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Soldier Charged With Assault After Shoving Black Man in Viral Video

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  • Authorities charged Army soldier Jonathan Pentland with third-degree assault and battery on Wednesday after a viral video showed him shoving a Black man while yelling at him to leave a South Carolina neighborhood.
  • Many people, including dozens who protested outside Pentland’s home this week, condemned the confrontation as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”
  • Pentland and others claimed the unidentified man was picking a fight with neighbors, which the man denied, but police said nothing that may have happened earlier justified Pentland’s actions.
  • If convicted, Pentland faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Viral Video

A U.S. soldier was charged with assault on Wednesday after a video that circulated online showed him yelling at and shoving a Black man in a South Carolina neighborhood.

Footage of the April 8 incident was posted to social media Monday. It shows the Army soldier, Jonathan Pentland, confronting the unidentified man and telling him to leave the neighborhood. 

The other man explains that he’s just walking through the area and doing nothing wrong, but Pentland becomes increasingly aggressive. “You better walk away,” he shouts at the man after shoving him.

“You either walk away, or I’m gonna carry your ass out of here,” he continues before adding, “You’re in the wrong neighborhood motherf*ker. Get out!”

The man then tries to tell Pentland that he lives in the neighborhood, and Pentland then asks for his address, which he does not give.

The confrontation continues with Pentland cursing and getting in the man’s face. As he does so, the man says that Pentland smells drunk. 

It’s unclear what exactly led up to the confrontation, but in the video, a woman off-camera says the man “picked a fight with some random young lady that’s one of our neighbors.”

“I don’t even know who she is. Nobody picked a fight when someone ran up on me,” the man replies. Another woman off-screen then encourages the man to leave with her, saying, “What’s your name? Come on. You don’t want no trouble.”

Video Triggers Protests Outside Pentland’s Home

After this video spread online, many social media users condemned it as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”

In fact, protesters even began demonstrating outside of Penland’s home. Those protests started off peaceful, but deputies were then called after 8 p.m. because unknown individuals vandalized the house. That forced police to shut down access to the area and remove Pentland’s family to another location.

As far as the viral video, deputies were told that the man approached “several neighbors in a threatening manner” and that someone had asked Pentland to “intervene.”

Police did confirm that there are two reports of alleged assault against the unnamed man Pentland shoved that are being investigated. However, they also added that the man has “an underlying medical condition that may explain the behavior exhibited in the alleged incidents.”

Pentland Charged

Either way, police said whatever happened earlier did not justify Pentland’s actions. He was ultimately arrested Wednesday morning and was charged with third-degree assault and battery. He faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail if convicted.

“We’re not going to let people be bullies in our community,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a news conference Wednesday. “And if you are, you’re going to answer for it, and that’s what we’ve done in this case.”

On top of that, the Justice Department reportedly was investigating. Pentland’s Commanding General even issued a statement condemning his behavior, adding that Pentland “brought disrespect to @fortjackson our Army and the trust with the public we serve.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (Huffpost)

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Texas Students Created Snapchat Group To ‘Slave Trade’ Black Classmates

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  • Freshmen at a Texas high school set up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates. 
  • A screenshot showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”
  • That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer while a second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”
  • The school faced backlash for initially describing it as “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment,” without acknowledging the racism. The district later issued a stronger condemnation and said the students were disciplined but did not list specific consequences.

Racist Snapchat Group

Aledo high school students at Daniel Ninth Grade Campus in Northern Texas are making headlines for setting up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates. 

A screenshot reviewed by several local news outlets showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”

That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer. A second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”

Screenshot of group chat message via KXAS

At least one student who was mentioned as being “sold” in the chats was later sent screenshots of the conversations.

According to a report from the Star-Telegram reported last week, when the issue was brought to Principal Carolyn Ansley, she sent parents an email that didn’t mention the Snapchat group but only cited “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment.”

That caused frustrations because parents felt the issue of racism wasn’t being addressed or acknowledged.

Mark Grubbs, a father of three former students, told KXAS he was sickened by the students’ actions. Grubbs, who is Black, also said he had taken his children out of the district over other racist incidents in the past.

“My son being called out of his name and what not and it got to the point he didn’t mind fighting and that didn’t sit right with me and my wife. My son was never a fighter,” he said.

District Responds

After the incident garnered media attention, the Aledo Independent School District issued a statement.

The district said it learned of the incident more than two weeks ago and started an investigation that involved law enforcement.

“There is no room for racism or hatred in the Aledo ISD, period,” it added. “Using inappropriate, offensive and racially charged language and conduct is completely unacceptable and is prohibited by district policy.”

District officials spoke with the students responsible as well as their parents, saying they “made it clear that statements and conduct that targets a student because of his or her race is not only prohibited but also has a profound impact on the victims.”

The district also said it assigned disciplinary consequences, though it did not explicitly state what those consequences were or state how many students were involved.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC) (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

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What You Need To Know About the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause

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  • The CDC and the FDA have issued a joint recommendation to pause distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine amid reports that six women experienced “extremely rare” blood clots after receiving the single-dose shot.
  • The vast majority of the 6.8 million Americans who were given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have reported minor to no side effects, and no direct link has been established between the vaccine and blood clots at this time. 
  • The two agencies are expected to release updated guidance in the coming days.
  • Several states and cities are now automatically giving the two-dose Pfizer vaccine to people who were scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week. 

CDC and FDA Recommend J&J Vaccine Halt

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, released a statement Tuesday recommending a pause on the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

So far, 6.8 million people in the U.S. have been vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, most with zero or only mild side effects.

The updated guidance comes after six women, all between the ages of 18 to 48, experienced what both agencies described as “extremely rare” blood clots six to 13 days after being vaccinated. One of those women has died and another is in critical condition.

Neither the CDC nor the FDA has confirmed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the cause of these blood clots; rather, they said this guidance comes “out of an abundance of caution.”

That’s also in line with Johnson & Johnson itself, which said it’s aware of the reports but added that “no clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events.” As a precaution, Johnson & Johnson has also now delayed the rollout of its vaccine in Europe. 

What Happens From Here?

Principal Deputy Director of the CDC Anne Schuchat said further recommendations will come quickly.

FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock echoed that statement, saying, “We expect it to be a matter of days for this pause.”

Wednesday, a CDC committee will convene to discuss the cases and assess their potential significance.

When asked if the government was overreacting to just six cases out of nearly 7 million vaccinations (a criticism made by some online), Schuchat said the CDC pulled its recommendation specifically because the type of blood clots seen in these 6 women requires special treatment, so “it was of the utmost importance to us to get the word out.”

In the meantime, both agencies are urging Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients to contact their doctors if they experience any combination of severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath. 

What If I Had A J&J Appointment?

Both agencies, as well as other health officials, are still urging unvaccinated people to take the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines when available in their area.

The White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator has said that 28 million doses of those vaccines will be made available this week. Notably, that’s more than enough for the country to continue giving 3 million shots a day. 

If you had an appointment scheduled to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you’re likely not completely out of luck.

For example, while D.C. vaccination sites are canceling all Johnson & Johnson appointments between Tuesday and this Saturday, the health department there has said it’ll send out invitations on Wednesday to reschedule.

Similar situations were reported in Virginia and Maryland, though some vaccination sites in Maryland are still honoring existing appointments by automatically giving people Pfizer instead. That’s also a process that is now being conducted in places like New York State and Memphis.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (NBC News) (The Washington Post)

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