New Yorkers will suffer from the untimely termination of federal unemployment benefits

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Amanda Salazar | The Ticker

Alexandra Nita

Over 800,000 New Yorkers were given another reason to worry about the future as pandemic related federal unemployment benefits expired on Sept. 5.

The scale of the benefits, which The New York Times reports amounted to roughly $436 million in weekly assistance over 17 months, reflected the heavy toll the pandemic has taken on the city.

An unemployment rate of 10.5%, nearly double the national average according to The Gothamist, has left many residents desperate for a safety net while stuck in a financial and emotional limbo, making the termination of federal benefits both cruel and senseless.

Ericka Tircio, a mother of a 6-year-old son and immigrant from Ecuador who faced the double blow of losing her job as a cleaner and contracting COVID-19 in March 2020, echoed the sentiments of many New Yorkers right now.

“I’m praying to God that they call me back,” Tircio said to The New York Times. “There are moments when I’ve waited so long that I feel myself falling into a depression.”

There are multiple factors behind why New York has been so severely affected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is clear that racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 through inequity in housing, healthcare, job conditions, income and education. A data brief released by New York city’s government in May emphasized the impact of structural racism on COVID-19 outcomes and pandemic anxiety.

Even before the pandemic, many New Yorkers struggled with the costs of living. The New York Times reported that if affordable housing is defined as housing that takes less than 30% of a household’s income, then over half of New Yorkers were considered rent-burdened in 2016, which meant that they also struggled to pay for other necessities such as childcare.

New York is one of the wealthiest cities in the world, but the vast majority of the people who call it home, CUNY students included, are anything but.

In the face of all these difficulties, the continued spread of the Delta variant has also led to a new wave of layoffs, making the federal government’s decision to end pandemic-related aid particularly backward.

Even as President Joe Biden refuted the continuation of federal benefits, he highlighted the importance of government intervention by encouraging states to use federal aid fundsto support the unemployed — but passing the political buck is far from an easy or painless process.

One proposed method of allocating the funds would involve raising the $504 weekly limit on state unemployment to cover the $300 weekly federal aid lost, but that would likely require state legislation, according to The Gothamist.

In the meantime, impacted New Yorkers may be interested in assistance such as New York’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, also known as ERAP, SNAP for groceries and Legal Services NYC.

One of the few groups celebrating the repeal of federal pandemic-related benefits is New York’s business leaders and their Republican supporters.

“People were disincentivized to go to work,” Thomas Grech, president and chief executive officer of the Queen’s Chamber of Commerce said, as reported by The New York Times. “They’re making more money sitting at home. It’s a classic case of good intentions gone bad.”

However, CNBC reported that research has currently shown no correlation between the repeal of federal benefits and a decrease in unemployment. It’s common sense that New Yorkers having less money to spend will mean a slower economic recovery.

Businesses are eager to claim to be victims of a labor shortage caused by workers’ laziness, but the reality is that New Yorkers are hesitant to be exploited.

Economists and recruiting experts have mentioned that it’s minimum wages and lack of health care and pandemic safety protocols that make unfilled jobs unattractive. Customer service work can even carry the risk of violence toward workers in response to mask and vaccine mandates.

Also, it’s not as if these businesses can’t afford to change their tactics. While small businesses have struggled with sectors like hospitality fairing particularly poorly, Reuters reported that corporate growth surged to record highs in August.

This parallels the general trend of what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls an increasing gap between labor productivity and employee compensation since the 1970s that has, in turn, widened the country’s income gap.

The origins of the productivity gap likely lie in the fact that the 1970s was the era of former President Ronald Reagan, who encouraged the firing of striking union workers and their replacement with non-union workers, heralding 50 years of shrinking union membership.

Today, when powerful corporations like Amazon.com, Inc. are under scrutinyfor their aggressiveness toward unionizing efforts, pandemic benefits aren’t an unfair advantage that New Yorkers hold over the heads of businesses — they’re one of the only forms of leverage in a deeply unfair playing field.

As the pandemic stretches on, it becomes clearer and clearer that many  New Yorkers are being left behind.