The Guardian: Extra $600 in jobless pay offers many a lifeline – but will it be renewed?

By Amanda Holpuch
The Guardian, May 25, 2020

... The March coronavirus stimulus package provided an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits for four months for the now 39 million people who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic ... Last year, the weekly payment for unemployment was on average nearly $378, according to the US labor department. Come August, the workers who aren’t making more on unemployment will suddenly face an even bigger drop in pay.

Outside of politicians, some small businesses who are struggling to hire back workers have complained that their employees won’t return to work because they are making more on unemployment...

But John Pepper, founder and CEO of Boloco, a fast-casual burrito restaurant, is skeptical ... He doesn’t know if his company can weather the crisis, but he is certain it won’t be the unemployment boost that brings it down.

“I’m not worried about it because I think it’s right, it’s good for the people,” Pepper said. “If they don’t have to go right back to work for whatever reason, I think that’s fine.” ... People who are making more money can look at other career opportunities or just take care of their family and health.

And if people are struggling to bring their workers back, a problem Pepper hasn’t encountered, he said it could be an indicator about the work conditions. “You are going to know if you have a good culture or not – this is where the rubber hits the road,” Pepper said.

Boloco has been able to keep paying 120 staff – who have received an additional $2 an hour in hazard pay since March – with help from the PPP loan.

That money runs out after eight weeks, which for Pepper is early June. He said he has never felt as unstable as he does right now.

But he said that uncertainty puts him, and other restaurant owners, in a similar position to the one low-wage employees have been living for years.

“All of a sudden, for the first time in many business owners’ lives, they were day-to-day, they were literally one day at a time in March, when this thing started coming in,” Pepper said. “I thought to myself: ‘Welcome to the world of your employees.’”

The tensions around paying low wage workers more reflects the broader problem of inequality in the US. The extra $600 works out to $15 an hour for a 40-hour work week – the same figure labor activists have been pushing to be the national minimum wage.

The people who stand to benefit the most from the boost are those in the hardest-hit industries, such as hospitality, where wages were already low. These are also people facing uncertainty about when, and how many, jobs will be available. ...

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Copyright 2020 The Guardian

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