And the situation remains dire for the hardest-hit workers. The pandemic slump disproportionately hit workers in the leisure and hospitality sector — think restaurants — and employment in that sector is still down around 25 percent, while the unemployment rate for workers in the industry is still over 20 percent, more than four times what it was a year ago.
In part because of where the slump was concentrated, the unemployed tend to be Americans who were earning low wages even before the slump. And one disturbing fact about the August report was that average wages rose. No, that’s not a misprint: If the low-wage workers hit worst by the slump were being rehired, we’d expect average wages to fall, as they did during the snapback of May and June. Rising average wages at this point are a sign that those who really need jobs aren’t getting them.
So the economy is still bypassing those who need a recovery most.
Yet most of the safety net that temporarily sustained the economic victims of the coronavirus has been torn down.
The CARES Act, enacted in March, gave the unemployed an extra $600 a week in benefits. This supplement played a crucial role in limiting extreme hardship; poverty may even have gone down.
But the supplement ended on July 31, and all indications are that Republicans in the Senate will do nothing to restore aid before the election. President Trump’s attempt to implement a $300 per week supplement by executive action will fail to reach many and prove inadequate even for those who get it. Families may have scraped by for a few weeks on saved money, but things are about to get very hard for millions.
The bottom line here is that before you cite economic statistics, you want to think about what they mean for people and their lives. The data aren’t meaningless: A million jobs gained is better than a million jobs lost, and growing G.D.P. is better than shrinking G.D.P. But there is often a disconnect between the headline numbers and the reality of American life, and that is especially true right now.
The fact is that this economy just isn’t working for many Americans, who are facing hard times that — thanks to political decisions by Trump and his allies — are just getting harder.
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