Opinion

NICHOLS: We Need To Pass Another COVID Stimulus Package To Help Struggling Americans

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Jason Nichols Professor and progressive commentator
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Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing struggling Americans need another round of coronavirus stimulus. You can find a counterpoint here, where Heritage Foundation research associate David Ditch argues that we don’t need another stimulus package.

The Senate must pass another stimulus package.

With the announcement of COVID rates dropping across the country and Johnson & Johnson adding to the vaccine options, our country is headed in the right direction. In January, the unemployment rate also fell by 0.4 points to 6.3%, which is also a positive sign. Many will argue that these are reasons why we should not have another stimulus. A deeper dive shows why superficial numbers don’t tell the story of how many people and institutions in our country are hurting and need assistance.

Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell has said that he will not raise interest rates because unemployment among certain demographics is worse than the overall numbers reflect. He stated recently that “The economic recovery remains uneven and far from complete, and the path ahead is highly uncertain.” For example, unemployment for black people stands at 9.2%. Women accounted for all of the net 140,000 jobs lost in the month of December. Black women and Latinas were by far the hardest hit. Women of color are more likely to work jobs were they could not work remotely and paid sick leave was not an option. Many had to stay with children for virtual learning. Those women, some of whom are the single earner for their households, need financial assistance.

People who work at restaurants and other entertainment venues will continue to struggle as the public slowly regains confidence in large gatherings. Similarly, airlines have laid off, furloughed or warned 400,000 workers they may lose their jobs and warn that another 14,000 layoffs could come as people do not feel safe traveling. It is estimated that it could take close to 9 more months to reach herd immunity through vaccination. The people who work in those industries need a moratorium on evictions, unemployment supplementation and financial assistance for their families.

Schools are opening, but preparations are not at a point where poorer, multigenerational families can feel comfortable and safe. Vaccine rollout in 8 states is still below 14%. Schools need the $170 billion in the House stimulus bill to prepare to get large numbers of students back into classrooms.

The conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute stated that in 2020, “The fact that over 1 million state and local government workers have lost their jobs is a sign that fiscal distress has had real consequences.”  In other words, even conservatives understand the toll the pandemic has had on working people and local governments, and that the latter also needs support from the federal government in order to remain solvent.

Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen believes Biden’s plan could have the nation back at full employment by the end of 2021. At a time when 15 million Americans are behind on their rent and 12 million do not have enough to eat, the cost of doing nothing could be far greater than any deficit increase.

Jason Nichols is a lecturer in African American Studies at the University of Maryland and a prolific progressive commentator.