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Unemployment Numbers Rise Amid Debate Over Extending Enhanced Benefits

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  • Another 2.4 million people filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total count to more than 38 million.
  • This comes as President Trump and GOP leaders said they do not want to extend federal unemployment benefits that give everyone an addition $600 a week and are set to expire in July.
  • Those Republicans say the benefits disincentivize people from going back to work because many are currently getting more money from unemployment insurance than they would at their normal jobs
  • Others argue that the enhanced benefits are an essential part of the broader economic recovery effort because it puts money in people’s pockets and acts as a stimulus.

Unemployment Continues to Rise

Another 2.4 million people filed for unemployment last week, the government reported Thursday, bringing the official total count to more than 38 million in the last nine weeks.

While the newest numbers still support the continued downward trend the U.S. has seen over the last few weeks, that is only one part of a much bigger picture.

Almost 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread shutdowns. That does not include the estimated millions more that are currently applying for benefits or waiting for their applications to be approved.

Even though more places are reopening and more people are going back to work, those numbers might not be as optimistic as many have hoped.

In fact, continuing claims— which show how many people are still collecting unemployment after their initial application— rose by 2.5 million to a record 25 million. Some believe that is a sign that unemployment is still straggling even as states being to ease restrictions.

While that figure is reported on a two-week lag and thus might not be representative of recent reopenings, it is clear that many Americans are still hurting. 

According to a recent household survey from the Census Bureau, 47% of adults said they or someone in their household have lost employment income since March 13, and nearly 40% “expected that they or someone in their household would lose employment income over the next four weeks.”

Now, more and more economists are warning that many of the job losses meant to be temporary could become permanent. One recent report published by the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute estimated that 42% of recent layoffs will result in permanent job loss.

Debate Over Extending Enhanced Benefits

Despite these growing concerns, President Donald Trump and other top Republicans have said they want to end the enhanced federal unemployment benefits that were laid out under the stimulus bill.

Normally state governments are the ones that give out unemployment, but under the CARES Act, Congress authorized an additional $600 a week on top of that for all unemployed Americans.

However, those extra benefits are set to expire in July. On Friday, the House passed a $3 trillion stimulus package that would extend those benefits until the end of the year, but Republicans have broadly rejected a number of provisions in that bill.

According to reports, Trump privately expressed his opposition to extending those benefits during a private meeting on Tuesday. 

The next day, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reportedly said that the enhanced unemployment benefits would not be in the next stimulus bill, and added that Republicans are “going to have to clean up the Democrats’ crazy policy that is paying people more to remain unemployed than they would earn if they went back to work.”

That pretty much sums up why Republicans want to end the benefits. They believe that if unemployed people are getting more money from unemployment than they would normally, or even if they are just able to get by existing on those benefits, then they will not go back to work.

There has been some anecdotal evidence of companies saying they are having a hard time getting workers to go back to their old jobs. Although, according to reports, some workers say this is because they are concerned about unaddressed safety issues.

But here’s the thing: legally, people who are offered reemployment and turn it down are likely to lose their unemployment benefits.

That, however, puts employers in a tough position because they have to make hard choices about keeping their business afloat and rehiring people who might be better off on unemployment.

This is true for a lot of people. While some studies estimate that about 40% of workers made less at their jobs than they would get from the expanded benefits, others say two-thirds of unemployed workers who are getting those benefits are taking home more than they would from their previous job. 

The Benefits of More Benefits

On the other side of this debate, many argue that giving people more money right now a good thing— not just for everyday people who are hurting, but for the economy as whole.

“Unemployment benefits represent a critical component of the country’s recovery effort, as the weekly payments to out-of-work Americans function as a form of stimulus in their own right,” the Washington Post explained.

Normally, joblessness benefits are supposed to provide around 45% of a person’s wages, but in order to boost the economy, the extra $600 in the CARES Act is intended to be enough to give most people 100% of their lost wages.

“Unemployment insurance in a normal recession is a great stimulus because it has high bang for your buck. People spend it,” Chad Stone, the top economist for Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told the Post. “It’s very valuable to the people receiving it, and it’s beneficial to the economy.”

With rising concerns that more and more of the job losses caused by the pandemic will become permanent, that could be incredibly important for supporting the economy in the long term.

When it comes to unemployment, planning for the distance has proven to be essential in the past.

For example, during the 2008 financial crisis, Congress extended unemployment benefit eligibility up to 99 weeks.

While it was an expensive and controversial move, some experts said the payments were essential for people who were unemployed for way longer than their states would normally give them benefits, which currently is around 26 weeks in most parts of the country.

If more job losses are permanent, some argue extending these federal benefits could be absolutely necessary.

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

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Conservatives are Mad at “Woke” Xbox for Minor Climate-Related Updates

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The fury comes after Xbox announced it was slightly altering existing consoles to better utilize and save energy.


Same War, New Battlefield

Mere days after M&M canceled their “spokescandies” due to backlash from the right, led largely by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, conservatives have found a new front for their ongoing culture war: Xbox.

Carlson spent months complaining that small character redesigns were “woke” because they made the animated anthropomorphized M&M’s — in his own words — “less sexy.” His campaign finally proved successful on Monday when the company announced it would be doing away with the spokescandies and replacing them with actress Maya Rudolph.

Conservatives, now facing a sudden dearth of non-issues to complain about, quickly found a new issue to rage against. Xbox announced in a blog post earlier this month that it is making minor updates to lower its environmental impact as part of an effort to reach Microsoft’s goal of being carbon-negative by 2030.

Now, instead of having an Xbox wake up to update games, apps, and software during random times of the night, it will do that at a time of night when a user’s local energy grid is generating the most power it can from renewable sources. 

Xbox also said it would automatically update some older consoles to a power-saving mode that aims to reduce electricity consumption when it is turned off — a feature that is already the default on newer consoles.

According to The Verge, the only difference for users is that an Xbox in power-saving mode takes around 15 seconds to boot up instead of doing so immediately as the console does in “sleep” mode. The change is a small price to pay for what the outlet described as “significant” energy savings.

Xbox Under Fire

To many leading conservative voices, the minimal shifts were just another example of “woke” culture. 

While discussing M&M’s spokescandies Tuesday morning, “Fox and Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt brought up Xbox’s new changes with Fox radio host Jimmy Failla.

“So Xbox has also announced that they’re going woke too, you know, because of climate change,” Earhardt said.

“I mean, it’s crazy what they’re doing, but we understand what this is. It’s not that it’s actually going to offset emissions, okay — the level of reduction is infinitesimal,”  Failla claimed, without evidence. “But they’re trying to recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age; make them climate conscious now.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think of that — you’re right, they’re going after the children,” Earhardt agreed, despite the fact that internal data from Microsoft shows just around 10% of Xbox owners are under the age of 18.

Other prominent conservatives also did their part to bait Americans into anger on social media, including America’s Foundation, which posted a tweet stating that “the woke brigade is after video games.”

The post linked an article from the right-wing website TheBlaze, which asserted that “Xbox will force gamers to power down to fight climate change.”  That, however, is false — Xbox has said users can switch back and change the settings any time they want

Still, top lawmakers continued to share the article and spread its false claims, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.).

“First gas stoves, then your coffee, now they’re gunning for your Xbox,” he wrote in the post, which was flagged by Twitter and given an “added context” warning.

The same warning, however, was not placed in a very similar post by Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Tx.), who also shared the article.

“They want to take your guns. They want to take your gas stoves. And now they want to take your Xbox. What’s next?” he wrote.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Daily Beast) (VICE)

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Washington State Launches Investigation Into Abuse at Private Special Ed. Schools

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Allegations include staff kicking a fourth-grader and dragging a child with autism around by his leg.


Abuse Allegations

Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has launched an investigation into a system of private schools for kids with disabilities after ProPublica and the Seattle Times reported on allegations of abuse.

The series of articles focused on Northwest School of Innovative Learning (NWSOIL). NWSOIL is a set of private schools that serve 500 Washington public school students with serious disabilities. ProPublica and the Seattle Times found years of complaints from parents and school districts against NWSOIL alleging abuse, overuse of isolation rooms, and unqualified aides teaching instead of certified professionals.

One district claimed NWSOIL staff kicked a fourth-grader. Another alleged that a child with autism was dragged around by his thigh.

Many former NWSOIL employees also claim that they were pressured by their parent company to to enroll more students and skimp on basic resources, like staffing.

Investigation Launched

In a seven-page letter, OSPI reminded NWSOIL of its authority to revoke or suspend a school’s approval, meaning that it could shut NWSOIL down. 

“Given the serious nature of the allegations made in the articles, OSPI is examining what, if any, actions need to be taken with respect to Northwest SOIL’s approval to contract with Washington school districts,” Tania May, assistant superintendent for special education at OSPI, wrote in the letter.

OSPI has demanded any records of mistreatment, maltreatment, abuse, or neglect as well as documents pertaining to restraint or isolation of students and calls to the police. They are also seeking information about the student-to-teacher ratio and staff qualifications. 

In the letter, OSPI claims that all of this was previously unknown to them as well as to police, Child Protective Services, and local school districts. They are asking NWSOIL for an explanation as to why the allegations were not reported. 

NWSOIL defended itself in a public statement.

“Use of restraints and seclusion are always used as a last response when a student is at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others, it said. “We strongly deny any allegation that we understaff and/or pressure staff to increase admissions in order to maximize profits.” 

Washington state representatives are considering a reform bill that will give them more oversight on the publicly funded system of private special education schools. 

In this legislation, OSPI and at least one district that sends students to this program would be required to visit before approving the contract. It would also standardize district agreements with programs like NWSOIL, including financial safeguards to make sure funds are being used appropriately.

See the full series: (ProPublica) (The Seattle Times)

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Mass Shootings in Half Moon Bay, Oakland Rock California

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Just since Saturday, at least 19 people have been killed and 17 have been injured in mass shootings in California.


California Sees Third Attack in Under a Week

Two California localities experienced separate mass shootings Monday, just days after an attacker killed 11 and injured nine others in a suburb of Los Angeles.

The first of the most recent shootings took place in Half Moon Bay, a small coastal town about 30 miles outside of San Francisco, where a gunman killed seven and critically injured an eighth at two different locations.

According to authorities, police were dispatched to the first location around 2:20 pm and found four people shot to death and a fifth victim also suffering gunshot wounds. Shortly after, three more people were found dead at another site nearby.

About two hours later, police discovered the suspect in his car in the parking lot of a San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office substation with a semiautomatic handgun in the vehicle that officials later confirmed he had purchased legally.

Sheriff Christina Corpus said the man was taken into custody “without incident” and is “fully cooperating.” He has been identified as a 66-year-old Half Moon Bay resident of Asian descent.

Currently, the gunman’s motive is unknown, but the Sheriff told reporters Monday that both of the locations he targeted were nurseries, and it has since been reported that they were mushroom farms.

“All evidence we have points to this being an instance of workplace violence. The Mountain Mushroom Farm, the first location, is where the subject was employed,” Corpus said in a press conference Tuesday, though she added that, so far, the “only known connection between the victims and the suspect is that they may have been coworkers.”

As of writing, it remains unclear why he targeted the second location. A mushroom farm called Concord Farms has told reporters that it was the site of the second shooting — which a law enforcement official confirmed to The Washington Post.

In a statement to the media, a spokesperson said the farm had “no past knowledge” of the alleged gunman or his possible motives. Little has been released about the victims, though Corpus said Tuesday they were all adults and a “mixture of Asian and Hispanic descent,” some of whom were migrants. 

Authorities had previously stated that, because people both live and work on the farms, children were among those who witnessed the shooting. However, on Tuesday, one official walked that back and said while children were indeed in the vicinity, police do not have information about specific witnesses.

Just hours after the violence in Half Moon Bay, seven people were injured, and one other was killed during a shooting at a gas station in Oakland. Very little has been reported about the incident, but police have said that the shooting was “between several individuals.”

Renewed Calls for Gun Control

Californians continue to reel from the rapid succession of mass shootings in a state known for its strict gun control laws.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates against gun violence, the state ranks No. 1 in the country for gun law strength. An analysis led by the organization found that California has the sixth-lowest rate of gun ownership and the eighth-lowest gun death rate.

Many of California’s top lawmakers have argued that the state’s relatively low gun violence statistics emphasize the need for more federal regulations.

“The Second Amendment’s becoming a suicide pact,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) told CBS News in an interview.

“We’ll continue to find whatever loopholes we can and continue to lead the national conversation on gun safety reform. And the data bares out. It works. It saves lives,” he continued. “California’s 37% lower than the death rate of the rest of the nation, and yet, with all that evidence, no one on the other side seems to give a damn. I can’t get anything done in Congress.”

Following the Monterey Park shooting, U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.), alongside other Democratic colleagues, introduced two gun control bills in the upper chamber. The first would ban assault weapons, while the second aims to raise the minimum age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21.

President Joe Biden quickly threw his support behind the measures, urging Congress to pass them.

“The majority of the American people agree with this commonsense action,” he said in a statement Monday. “There can be no greater responsibility than to do all we can to ensure the safety of our children, our communities and our nation.”

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murders, suspected mass murderers, or those accused of committing violent crimes who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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