News & Commentary

August 7, 2020

Alexandra Butler

Alexandra Butler is a student at Harvard Law School.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the monthly jobs report this morning, showing a nonfarm payroll increase of 1.8 million jobs, as well as a slight decrease in the unemployment rate to 10.2% for the month of July. The industry with the largest employment gains was leisure and hospitality, adding 592,000 jobs. Yet, the report notes that the overall increase in jobs is notably smaller than that which occurred in June, and the New York Times writes that this is “a sign that momentum is slowing after a burst of economic activity in late spring.” 

In addition, 1.2 million people filed for unemployment last week, marking the lowest number of weekly claims since the beginning of the pandemic. The reason for the decrease in claims is contested, with some economists attributing the change to the end of the Federal Unemployment Pandemic Compensation (FPUC), which provided claimants with an additional $600 in unemployment benefits. Despite the new low, many economists note that pre-COVID unemployment numbers, increased likelihood of permanent job loss, hiring rate decreases, as well as general uncertainty surrounding state re-openings, indicate a labor market that is still very much suffering. The frailty of the labor market may be further exacerbated by the pending conclusion of the Paycheck Protection Program, “designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.” 

As the congressional debate surrounding the end of FPUC continues, journalists from the New York Times have released a study that demonstrates the extent to which black workers are more likely to be negatively affected by reduced unemployment benefits. The journalists discovered that low-benefit states have higher percentages of black workers, creating a discrepancy that is a reflection of a historical system that was designed to exclude on the basis of race. 

faulty app has caused an outcry among those who deliver products for Shipt, a Target-owned gig company that allows customers to have groceries and other items delivered to their homes. Shipt workers across the country have reported that the Shipt app has interfered with their ability to receive tips, money that makes up a majority of their income earned from their work for the company. Specifically, the app has either prevented customers from leaving tips or in some instances, has failed to deliver tips given. Despite their complaints, the workers maintain that Shipt and Target have failed to properly address the problem, revealing a larger pattern of disparate treatment between Target employees and Shipt gig workers, who have been essential to maintaining Target’s growth during the pandemic. Such disparate treatment includes both a lack of defined benefits and a guaranteed minimum wage. While Shipt has made some efforts to protect its shoppers during COVID-19, those efforts have been minimal, largely overshadowed by the company’s constant recalculation and often, lowering, of shoppers’ base pay. 

Despite past disagreement and hostility, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) have officially established a new collective bargaining agreement. The agreement provides for increased employee autonomy, as well as new, mandatory, COVID-related safety measures for the workplace. Specifically, under the new agreement, EPA workers have the ability to work from home two days a week, and when they are in the office, they will have immediate access to protective equipment, as well as guaranteed air quality control. 

Racial inequality at the magazine Bon Appétit has led three journalists of color to end their involvement with the publication’s video test kitchen. Specifically, the journalists allege a racially-divided system, where white journalists have more opportunities to be involved in the test kitchen series and make more than their minority counterparts. Their departures emphasize and further highlight the larger critique of the work culture at Condé Naste, the Anna Wintour-led parent company of Bon Appétit. As changes to key personnel take place in response to recent allegations of workplace discrimination, the company has stated that diversity and inclusion is its priority. Yet, according to two of the three departing journalists, Condé Naste has been evasive in its plans and ultimately has failed to keep its promise, at least in the video department.

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