In addition to delivering a gut punch to President Trump, Powell implicitly walloped Senate Republicans for dragging their feet on another recovery package. The Post reports that “Powell stressed Wednesday that the economy is likely to need aid from the central bank and Congress for a long time. He repeatedly highlighted his concern that millions of Americans will become permanently unemployed during this crisis as companies that employed them go out of business or their old jobs are eliminated.”
As if to highlight just how galling it was for Trump to take a victory lap after the May jobs numbers were released, Powell noted, “The downturn has not fallen equally on all Americans. ... The rise in joblessness has been especially severe for lower-wage workers, women, African Americans and Hispanics.” Powell said, “Unemployment is going up more for Hispanics, more for African Americans, and women have borne an extraordinary and notable share of the burden beyond their percentage in the workforce.” The 9.3 percent unemployment rate by some estimates would likely mean more than 17 percent unemployment for African Americans. Expect Democrats to hammer Trump and his Republican allies for doing nothing for those Americans.
The immediate issue facing lawmakers is the $600 weekly supplement to state unemployment benefits that will run out next month unless Congress extends the Cares Act or passes the House’s Heroes Act (funding through the end of the year). If the payment ends, millions of workers would find themselves in economic distress; moreover, the lack of funds in the hands of consumers to make purchases and maintain rent and mortgage payments will ripple throughout the economy.
The notion propounded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that the Senate should pause before taking up the Heroes Act defies Powell’s advice and sounds entirely tone deaf at a time Republicans are flailing about trying to convince African Americans that they care about inequality and systemic racism. Doing nothing is a risky bet that disproportionately affects Americans who already are the most vulnerable. Republicans’ refusal to take up stimulus legislation promptly in contravention of the Fed’s warning is a perfect example of how seemingly “neutral” policies (e.g., refusal to continue unemployment benefits) become accelerators for inequality.
The damage from Republicans’ refusal to go forward also impacts African Americans’ ability to vote. As we saw in Georgia on Tuesday, the lack of access to voting — including five-hour lines in some poor, mostly minority neighborhoods — disenfranchises voters as surely as Jim Crow. Speaking on Wednesday on CNN, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pointed to the disgraceful situation, saying, “Suppression takes many forms, including not being ready for an election that you know what your responsibilities are.” She went on to point out that in the Heroes Act, “we also have in there considerable resources for voting by mail. This is not only a democracy issue of helping people vote at home and, therefore, making it easier for them, it is a health issue in the time of the coronavirus.” She explained, “To see what happened in Georgia where in certain neighborhoods that are more affluent and more white, it took you twenty minutes to vote. But it took hours in other neighborhoods. . . . One would be suspicious that that could be by design."
Refusing to take up stimulus legislation not only increases the economic plight of African Americans and worsens disproportionately high unemployment, it also consigns many African Americans to a voting system that is dangerous in a pandemic and not feasible for those whose health, job or family obligations make it impossible to stand in line for hours. This is precisely how Republicans become complicit in systemic racism and inequality.