Photo Source: Gage Skidmore
By Jakob Stein
On Monday, the expanded unemployment benefits that have been in place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic expired, leaving over 7.5 million jobless workers without any benefits and another 3 million without the additional $300 per week federal supplement. While politicians and the monopoly media have pointed to a ‘labor shortage’ as a justification for the cut, meaning there are more job openings than unemployed people, millions are still struggling with unemployment as the Biden administration further withdraws all aid and workers are forced to bear the brunt of the economic crisis.
As the economic crisis reached its peak last year, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdown of large sectors of the economy, over 10 million people filed unemployment claims in a span of only two weeks—unemployment hit numbers not seen since the Great Depression. The State sought to stabilize the economy as well as calm the threat posed by the growing masses of unemployed workers with huge spending packages, including an initial $600 per week federal supplement to state unemployment, stimulus checks, and other funds that have languished in state coffers like the emergency ‘rental relief.’
The recent withdrawal of federal aid is the single largest cut in unemployment insurance in the history of the US. Biden’s administration, as well as most of the ruling class, has taken up the position that additional unemployment benefits are hindering the motivation for the unemployed to return to work. In fact, 25 states terminated the expanded benefits early during the summer, but there have been no substantial changes in employment numbers as a result.
Many workers have cited childcare issues as the reason they are unable to work. The ‘Cost of Care Survey’ for 2021, comparing the cost of childcare with pre-pandemic numbers and current ones, found that 25 percent of parents surveyed left the labor force completely to save money on childcare, while the majority of others were forced to either change jobs or reduce their working hours.
Fears surrounding the recent spike in COVID-19 infections due to the Delta variant have also had an impact on the labor pool. One unemployed warehouse worker from Oxnard, California, speaking on the recent cut to benefits, told Tribune: “I think it’s really careless. The Delta variant is out there, cases are going up. The pandemic isn’t over. There’s people who are dependent on unemployment. … If the government wanted to they could help people out. They bail out the banks with billions, but when it’s a working-class person who needs the help they consider it a handout.”
The narrative that unemployed workers are simply looking for a handout or are too content to return to work is a lie—it is pushed to divide the working class so they blame themselves and each other for their hardship rather than the ruling class that runs this exploitative economy. The ruling class uses this to obscure the way they see workers, as a resource that is to be exploited, exhausted, and discarded when they long longer generate profit. The capitalists may throw some scraps to workers while they are trying to push the economy into ‘recovery,’ but will always tear away what little the workers have when the capitalist machinery is back up and running again.
The natural result of any economic crisis is that millions of workers will be thrust into unemployment—these unemployed workers amount to a massive reserve army of labor, with most desperate for anything they can get. In addition to the millions of unemployed as a result of the economic crisis, millions of other workers were pushed to accept pay cuts to keep their jobs or were forced to take other, lower-paying jobs just to make ends meet. All of this is in the interests of the capitalist ruling class, which depends on increasing the exploitation of workers for their ‘recovery.’
One currently locked-out worker from the Exxon facility in Beaumont, Texas, explained how the cut in benefits directly plays into negotiations with the massive corporation for a new contract. “That extra $300 made a difference,” he said, adding that it looks like Exxon is waiting until the workers’ unemployment benefits and insurance coverage run out to put the workers in a desperate position for negotiations. He commented that he “never dreamed [being unemployed] would happen, and now that it’s time for me to get [unemployment insurance] it’s just six months and you’re done.”
The response of US imperialism to the economic crisis is predicated on workers bearing the brunt of the crisis, whether it is through unemployment or being forced to work more for less. In the initial shock waves of this economic crisis, the massive rebellion of the May Uprisings following the police murder of George Floyd and the new wave of strikes and workers’ struggles across the country have shown the working class’s resolve to fight back for a better society.
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