News & Commentary

October 2, 2020

Alexandra Butler

Alexandra Butler is a student at Harvard Law School.

The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 661,000 nonfarm jobs were added in September, lowering the unemployment rate to 7.1%. Roughly half of those jobs added were found in the leisure and hospitality sector. Though the economic recovery has exceeded some economists’ expectations, many note that the number of jobs added has decreased from month to month. This trends points to a larger problem of economic slowdown that many economists say can’t be properly fixed without congressional intervention.

Against the backdrop of this economic slowdown, 787,000 new state unemployment claims were filed last week, demonstrating the loss that people continue to face around the country. Though the weekly number of new claims decreased from prior weeks, companies are still making drastic cuts to their payrolls, either laying off or furloughing thousands of employees. For the airline industry, these cuts stem in part from legislative inaction, as Democrats and Republicans struggle to find middle ground for a new relief package. On Thursday, the House approved new legislation that would provide $2.2 trillion in pandemic-related aid. Such aid would go towards increasing weekly unemployment benefits, as well as assisting those sectors that have been most affected by the economic shutdown. Only Democratic House members supported this package, however, and many doubt that it will be considered by the Senate.

Moreover, the pandemic is putting new economic pressures on certain communities. According to the monthly jobs report, the unemployment rate for Asian Americans now rests at 8.9%, what NPR highlights as a notable high in comparison to a pre-pandemic rate of 2.8%. That 2.8% was the lowest unemployment rate among Whites, Blacks, Latinos and Asians. NPR and other economists attribute this surge in unemployment to a variety of factors, including the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on certain sectors and geographical locations, as well as racism stemming from the use of incorrect and offensive terms such as the “Chinese virus.”

A California district judge has invalidated the Trump Administration’s recent restrictions on H-1B visas, visas that cover 580,000 foreign specialized technology workers employed in the U.S. In doing so, Judge White emphasized that the restrictions amounted to an overstep of presidential power, one that needed to be corrected “in order not to render the executive an entirely monarchical power in the immigration context.”

As performers and artists face continued uncertainty, a change to their health care plans could leave some with inadequate insurance. On Thursday, the Equity-League Health Fund announced that, in order for union members to maintain a certain amount of coverage, they must work at least 16 weeks out of the year. This marks a five-week increase from the normally required 11 weeks, a difficult threshold to meet in light of recent theater shutdowns. The change is a result of those shutdowns which have significantly reduced the Fund’s revenue. In response, the Actors’ Equity Union criticized the Fund’s failure to properly consider how this new health insurance plan would affect minority members, pregnant members and members outside of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Specifically, union President, Kate Shindle, stated: “We all understand that there is no escaping the devastating loss of months of employer contributions nationwide, and no alternative aside from making adjustments to the plan. But I believe that the fund had both the obligation and the financial reserves to take the time to make better choices.” 

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