This hasn’t been an easy year for workers across the country. As the economy shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs. While some have returned to work, more than 11 million have not — and the pain runs deep.
The pandemic made it indisputable that there are massive disparities in the nation’s employment picture — problems that aren’t new, and don’t have easy answers. The national lockdown revealed just how many American workers were barely hanging on, living paycheck to paycheck, and the enormous gaps in income, savings and wealth. It unveiled the limitations of many states’ unemployment payment systems — including New York’s — as workers waited weeks or even months for their unemployment checks. And it showed just how precarious even a seemingly strong economy can be.
This Labor Day, we are left to pick up the pieces and try to restart, even as the pandemic still looms, and a threat of a second wave remains. With millions still out of work, and many others in jobs that pay too little and could easily shut down again, it’s critical that Congress returns with a new COVID-19 stimulus package that includes a broad extension of the federal pandemic unemployment assistance through at least the end of the year.
But we can’t stop there. Even as sectors of the economy reopen, others remain troubled. New York, in particular, has enormous holes, still, as important service industries like restaurants, entertainment and tourism remain mostly dark. There are tough questions to address. How can we provide workers with more protections, stability and growth opportunities? How do we narrow the income inequality gap, and spread the wealth? How can we create a better unemployment system, so that no one falls through the cracks? And how can we build the economy with a stronger foundation, and better, future-focused opportunities for all workers, especially for those hardest hit by the pandemic?
Monday marks a Labor Day when for many there’s little to celebrate. Instead, we should start providing workers with relief — and answers.