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Millions of Americans Lose Unemployment Benefits on Labor Day

The pandemic is far from over, but Congress has decided to let benefits lapse for some 10 million people

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Photo: Damian Dovarganes (Getty Images)

In a grim coincidence, unemployment benefits for ended for some 10 million Americans on Monday, Labor Day, after Congress failed to take any meaningful steps toward extending the federal programs.

The Washington Post estimates that 7 million Americans lost all of their benefits while an additional 3 million lost the $300 weekly federal add-on to their state benefits. People in either boat, however, have been thrown into panic and uncertainty about how they’ll feed their families, pay bills, and make rent—especially with the recent suspension of the Biden administration’s eviction moratorium.

More than two dozen states have already moved to cut off their residents from federal unemployment benefits, many of them led by conservative governors who misguidedly believed that doing so would help address supposed “work shortages.”(Of course the above is a generous reading of governors’ motivations: Many of them simply don’t support anything resembling social welfare.)

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Not only is this a cruel solution to such a problem—not to mention a willful misdiagnosis—but it is no solution at all. In June, the New York Times reported that in Missouri, for example, work-force development officials said they saw “virtually no uptick in applicants” since residents got cut off from federal benefits. Other states were thought to be doing a worse job of attracting workers than those that continued providing the benefits. Meanwhile, workers who are frantically looking for jobs have found that some employers are still offering less than they made on unemployment, and are inflexible on things like remote work. For others, it’s virtually impossible to return to work because of prohibitive childcare costs.

And so it might be reasonable to conclude that allowing federal benefits to lapse across the country is in service of nothing more than suffering.

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“We were surviving off unemployment,” Misty Todd, a convenience store worker who lost her job in March 2020, told CNBC. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t have a job and no way to pay my rent or anything else.”

Though progressive Democrats have been calling to extend the benefits, they’re currently absorbed in negotiations for Biden’s $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill, and moderates are (as usual) being stubborn about passing it through reconciliation.

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“I don’t understand how anyone in Washington cannot know normal people, their friends, families, cousins who are going through this,” Kathleen Fox, a New York-based producer who’s been out of work during the pandemic, told the Post. “The [Biden] administration has lost interest in this cause and they’ve moved on to other things.”