Eq­ui­table growth es­sen­tial to eco­nomic re­cov­ery

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS HIDDEN COMMON GROUND - Heather Boushey Opin­ion contributo­r Heather Boushey, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Wash­ing­ton Cen­ter for Eq­ui­table Growth, is au­thor of "Un­bound: How In­equal­ity Con­stricts Our Economy and What We Can Do About It."

A lit­tle more than six months ago, Congress united in a rare act of strong bi­par­ti­san­ship to pass, nearly unan­i­mously, the Coronaviru­s Aid, Re­lief and Eco­nomic Se­cu­rity (CARES) Act. And just as in­tended, the law pro­vided im­me­di­ate fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to work­ers and their fam­i­lies, small busi­nesses and some of the in­dus­tries hit hard­est by the coronaviru­s pan­demic and re­sult­ing re­ces­sion.

The CARES Act worked be­cause, at least for sev­eral months, key pro­vi­sions were de­signed to help the bot­tom 90% of in­come earn­ers who make up the back­bone of our economy. The $2.2 tril­lion in fed­eral aid kept the economy afloat while, for the good of us all, busi­nesses shut their doors.

Ac­cord­ing to data from the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics, nearly 22 mil­lion U.S. work­ers lost their jobs as a re­sult of the pan­demic re­ces­sion. By July, 9 mil­lion were back at work. The CARES Act helped make those re­turns pos­si­ble, but we still have a long way to go to re­cov­ery.

Since its on­set, the pan­demic has re­vealed in stark re­lief what those of us who have stud­ied eco­nomic in­equal­ity al­ready knew. COVID-19 ex­posed the vast net­work of un­der­ly­ing fragili­ties that con­tinue to threaten the health and well-be­ing of our na­tion.

For ex­am­ple, we now see clearly how af­ford­able child care and uni­ver­sal preschool are core to hav­ing a strong economy, both for how they make work pos­si­ble for par­ents as well as their role in help­ing chil­dren to thrive.

We also see how nec­es­sary it is for work­ers to earn a liv­ing wage to pre­pare for eco­nomic down­turns and emer­gen­cies, again made pow­er­fully clear by the twin public health and eco­nomic crises.

And we can see how small busi­nesses – the cor­ner store, cafe and diner, along­side the dry cleaner and dog groomer and all the rest – are the back­bone of our com­mu­ni­ties and yet so frag­ile in this cri­sis.

In­deed, poli­cies that pro­mote eq­ui­table growth across the in­come spec­trum are es­sen­tial if we want an eco­nomic re­cov­ery that is broad-based and sus­tain­able.

The pan­demic has also un­masked all the ways that health care is a core eco­nomic is­sue. It starts with the right for work­ers to have proper pro­tec­tive equip­ment and be able to stay home when they are sick. Th­ese work­place is­sues have be­come a mat­ter of life or death.

Then there are the sick­nesses and deaths among the el­derly, those with un­der­ly­ing health con­di­tions and com­mu­ni­ties of color that laid bare the con­se­quences of decades of un­der­funded public health pro­grams and the legacy of a lack of af­ford­able health in­surance be­fore the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Though the CARES Act helped save us from eco­nomic disas­ter, it has now mostly ex­pired. In the wake of fail­ure to ex­tend re­lief, job growth has stalled.

Job losses be­come per­ma­nent

In its most re­cent re­port, the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics in­di­cated that losses once thought to be tem­po­rary from the pan­demic are be­com­ing per­ma­nent, and that the num­ber of new job open­ings in Au­gust slowed af­ter three months of in­creases.

Now in Septem­ber, we see an economy where more busi­nesses are go­ing bank­rupt. Ma­jor in­dus­tries are an­nounc­ing big lay­offs. And ren­ters with months of over­due rent will face evic­tion as mora­to­ri­ums even­tu­ally ex­pire.

Mean­while, Congress has failed to pass an ad­di­tional re­lief pack­age that ex­pands sup­port for work­ers, busi­nesses and fam­i­lies’ eco­nomic se­cu­rity. When they do, it’s im­por­tant that those mea­sures stay in ef­fect un­til the economy is healed.

We must look to re­verse the de­ci­sions made over the past 50 years that made our economy so frag­ile, and in­stead fo­cus on lay­ing the foun­da­tion for a strong eco­nomic re­cov­ery char­ac­ter­ized by eq­ui­table growth.

All work­ers need paid sick leave

This means paid sick leave for all work­ers, re­gard­less of how big their em­ployer is, that re­im­burses 100% of their wages. It means in­ject­ing a large in­fu­sion of funds for state and lo­cal govern­ments, which have al­ready re­duced spend­ing and laid many work­ers off.

It also means ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment in­surance ben­e­fits to help those who have lost their jobs be­cause of the pan­demic, many of whom are Black, Lat­inx and Na­tive Amer­i­can, and who have dis­pro­por­tion­ately suf­fered from COVID-19.

And fi­nally, no re­lief pack­age can put us on a path to long-term sta­ble re­cov­ery with­out putting into place stronger pro­grams that trig­ger au­to­mat­i­cally to sta­bi­lize the economy and sup­port work­ers and fam­i­lies. Th­ese au­to­matic sta­bi­liz­ers, as they’re called, in­crease spend­ing at the first sign of a re­ces­sion and de­crease when the economy re­cov­ers.

To be clear, no true re­cov­ery can be­gin with­out first con­tain­ing the coronaviru­s. As we look ahead to the fall and the po­ten­tial for the virus to re­bound as Amer­i­cans spend more time in­doors, we should be laser fo­cused on what poli­cies we can put in place now to be­gin that re­cov­ery.

Only then can we ef­fec­tively re­spond to the re­ces­sion and build a more re­silient economy for the fu­ture.


COVID-19 has made clear how nec­es­sary it is for work­ers to earn a liv­ing wage to pre­pare for eco­nomic down­turns.

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