Eight million Americans have slipped into poverty as federal aid has dried up

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Job seekers exercise social distancing as they wait to be called into the Heartland Workforce Solutions office in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Nebraska reinstated job search requirements this week for most people claiming jobless benefits. Those unemployment insurance requirements were suspended in mid-March to help employees who had lost their jobs due to the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

After an ambitious expansion of the safety net in the spring saved millions of people in the United States from poverty, the aid is now largely exhausted and poverty has returned to levels higher than before the coronavirus crisis, two new studies have found.

The number of poor people has grown by eight million since May, according to researchers at Columbia University, after falling by four million at the pandemic’s start as a result of a $2 trillion emergency package known as the Cares Act.

Using a different definition of poverty, researchers from the University of Chicago and Notre Dame found that poverty has grown by six million people in the past three months, with circumstances worsening most for Black people and children.

“These numbers are very concerning,” said Bruce D. Meyer, an economist at the University of Chicago and an author of the study. “They tell us people are having a lot more trouble paying their bills, paying their rent, putting food on the table.”

Significantly, the studies differ on the most recent month: While the Columbia model shows an improvement in September, the Chicago and Notre Dame analysts found poverty continued to grow.

The recent rise in poverty has occurred despite an improving job market, an indiction that the economy has been rebounding too slowly to offset the lost benefits.

The Democratic-controlled House has twice passed multitrillion-dollar packages to provide more help and to stimulate the economy, but members of a divided Republican-led Senate, questioning the cost and necessity, have proposed smaller plans. President Trump has demanded that Congress “go big” before the elections and canceled negotiations.

While the job market may have gotten better since hitting bottom in April, it recently flattened and is now declining again. American employers continue to shed workers at a staggering rate as a resurgent virus and the absence of new federal aid take their tolls.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that 885,000 Americans filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week, an increase fromthe previous week. That figure is not adjusted for seasonal variations.

Over the past month, large employers including United AirlinesDisney and Allstate announced tens of thousands of layoffs, and more are expected as sectors like leisure and hospitality struggle. In some states, restaurants have salvaged some business by serving diners outside, but many will lose that option as temperatures fall.

NYTIMES

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