It’s no secret that the extra $600 per week of unemployment benefits that 20 million Americans have been receiving for the past couple months is set to end on July 31st. These benefits have helped millions of Americans meet basic needs like paying rent and buying groceries at a time when working simply is not an option.
While the CARES Act has been beneficial, it will be in vain without an extension before congress goes on a month-long vacation on August 7th. While a second stimulus package seems likely at this point, it is by no means set in stone. If the unemployment benefits aren’t extended, it would be devastating for both the American economy and millions of American citizens.
But what has the extra money in unemployment checks taught us about our own income? Let’s do some math, $600 per week is equivalent to $15 per hour. Americans have been advocating for a $15 per hour minimum wage for years, so it is interesting that it is that exact paycheck that the government deems necessary for people who have lost jobs due to the pandemic to have to meet their basic needs. Whether they wanted to or not, the government has acknowledged that this is the bare minimum that a person in this country needs to meet their needs and put money back into the economy.
What happens when the pandemic is actually over, when the majority of the 20 million unemployed people in this country actually go back to work, is just as important as what happens now. In 36 states the $600 per week increase in unemployment benefits, a living wage, is more than what the average person is earning while at work. This means that if no permanent action is taken, most Americans currently receiving unemployment will take a large pay cut if and when they are able to go back to work, slowing down spending and thus economic recovery.
There is no reason to let this happen when there is a way to make sure every American has their needs met. The Trump administration and Republicans in congress have been adamantly opposed to a minimum wage increase for years, and likely have not even considered a universal basic income. This pandemic has brought to light a lot of problems that the U.S. government has been sweeping under the rug for years, but now everyone’s eyes are wide opened and it’s time to act.
These are basic things. It is not too much of us to ask from our government to provide us with our most basic needs. It is not too much of us to ask from our government to allow us to get paid a living wage for jobs that have been considered, “essential,” during a global pandemic. It is not too much for us to ask of our government to keep us from going into a lifetime of debt because we need medical care. And it is not too much of us to ask of our government to use the billions of dollars needlessly being given to police departments to pay for all of it.
Our time is now. Trump’s was never.
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