Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, New York City has been hit economically like no other major American city, as a sustained recovery has failed to take hold and hundreds of thousands of workers have yet to find a place. full-time employment.
On Sunday, the city, like other communities across the country, suffered another blow: the pandemic-related federal unemployment benefit package, which kept families afloat for 17 months, expired.
Soon, around $ 463 million in weekly unemployment assistance for New York residents comes to an end, threatening to upend the city’s nascent economic rebound and slash the only source of income so some can pay rent. and shopping for groceries in a city plagued by inequalities.
About 10 percent of the city’s population, or about 800,000 people, will see federal assistance cut, although many will continue to receive state benefits.
Benefits were the only income for the many self-employed and contract workers whose jobs are at the heart of the city’s economy and vitality – taxi drivers, artists and hairdressers, among others – and who are not entitled to benefits. regular unemployment benefits.
“Just cutting people off is ridiculous and it’s unethical and it’s evil,” said Travis Curry, 34, a freelance photographer who will lose all his help, about $ 482 a week. “If we can’t buy food or go to local businesses because we don’t have the money to live in New York, how will New York come back? “
Federal officials say more Americans are ready to return to work, and Republican lawmakers and small business owners have blamed the benefits of discouraging people from working at a time when there are a record number of job vacancies. ‘use.
In recent weeks, President Biden has said states like New York with high unemployment rates could look to leftover federal pandemic aid to extend benefits after his administration decided not to ask the government. Congress to authorize an extension.
In New York City, Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat who signed a new moratorium on evictions last week after the Supreme Court ended federal protections, said the state could not afford to extend the benefits alone and would need the federal government to provide additional benefits for the money. A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio did not respond to requests for comment.
Expiration of unemployment benefits ends a period of extraordinary federal intervention to support the economy over the past year and a half as the virus ravaged the country, killing 649,000 and leaving millions of workers laid off struggle to get new jobs.
Federal programs supplemented the state’s standard and much smaller unemployment benefits. New York City was the first major city in the United States to be hit hard by the pandemic, almost overnight wiping out the industries that underpinned the city’s economy, from tourism to hospitality and the passing. by office buildings. Economists have predicted that New York City may not fully recover all of its pandemic job losses until 2024.
Federal aid has provided new flows of financial assistance beyond regular unemployment benefits, which are distributed by states. Unemployed Americans received an additional $ 600 per week, which was then reduced under Mr Biden to $ 300 per week. Unemployment benefits have also been offered to contract workers and self-employed workers who, under normal circumstances, are not eligible for assistance. Payments have been extended beyond the 26 weeks offered by most states.
The end of the $ 300 federal supplement means those who are still eligible for regular benefits through New York State will lose about half of their weekly aid.
Since the launch of unemployment programs in April 2020, residents of New York City have raised an estimated $ 53.5 billion in unemployment benefits, mostly from the lowest paid workers in the service sectors, hospitality and the arts, according to a recent report by economist James Parrott of the New York City Center for New School for Business. The recipients also tended to be people of color, who bore the brunt of the economic and health toll of the pandemic.
This includes Ericka Tircio, who lost her job cleaning out a 40-story office building in Manhattan’s financial district in March 2020 and contracted the disease around the same time. She has received help since then, but it will be reduced by about $ 300 per week.
Ms Tircio, an Ecuadorian immigrant who has a 6-year-old son, said her company recently told her she may be asked to return to work in the coming months.
“I pray to God that they will remind me,” Ms. Tircio, who speaks Spanish, said through a translator. “There are times when I’ve waited so long that I feel like I’m falling into a depression.”
Ms Tircio is a member of 32BJ SEIU, a local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, whose president, Kyle Bragg, said thousands of its members were laid off during the pandemic.
“Workers should not be left behind during the worst crisis in a century,” said Bragg.
In recent months, about half of states have chosen to end their pandemic-related benefits well ahead of the expiration this weekend, a deadline set by the federal government as a vigorous recovery appeared to be looming. on the horizon.
In states ruled by Republican governors, elected officials have said aid has hampered economic growth and led to labor shortages; however, employment growth in these states was not significantly different from that of the states that maintained the programs.
In New York, business leaders have pleaded for the state to end unemployment benefits in the event of a pandemic, arguing they hurt small businesses that have struggled to hire workers. Thomas Grech, chairman of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said several career fairs he organized over the summer were un-attended.
“People were not encouraged to go to work,” said Mr. Grech. “They make more money staying at home. This is a classic case of good intentions gone bad.
Mr Grech said raising wages as a way to attract workers, as some economists and labor advocates have recommended, was unrealistic for some restaurants “unless you want to spend $ 30 or $ 40 on a burger. “.
New York politicians have argued that unemployment benefits help inject money directly into the economy.
“People who receive emergency unemployment assistance are going to turn around and spend this money, and this money is useful to other people who are also struggling to get things back to normal,” said the state senator. Brian Kavanagh, a Democrat who represents Lower Manhattan.
The expiration of benefits was supposed to coincide with some sort of grand reopening for New York City, as many companies announced during a drop in virus cases in early summer that workers would be called back to the office in September.
But the Delta variant fueled a resurgence of the virus, postponing any hope that Manhattan office buildings would fill up soon. While months of moderate job gains reduced the number of jobless people, the city’s unemployment rate in July, 10.5%, was about double the national average.
Bill Wilkins, who oversees economic development for the Local Development Corporation of East New York in Brooklyn, said unemployment and other benefits have helped support his neighborhood, which has long suffered from high unemployment. But as the pandemic moves away from its peak, he said it was also “incumbent on individuals to be more self-reliant.”
The pandemic has exposed the significant skills gap in New York, he said, resulting in large numbers of unemployed people who are not qualified for jobs requiring a college degree, such as high-paying jobs in the technology sector.
“If you want a job right now, you have one,” Wilkins said, referring to lower paying openings at many mom-and-pop stores. “The problem is, is this work a sustainable salary? You want better paying jobs, but you need to have the skills required that require this type of salary. “
Alex Weisman, an actor, first registered for unemployment benefits after the pandemic shut down Broadway, where he had been a part of the ensemble for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”. The checks, which ranged from about $ 800 to $ 1,100 per week, kept her paying rent for her apartment in Manhattan’s Hamilton Heights neighborhood.
Mr Weisman, 34, submits audition videos every week, hoping for a stable job. Earlier this year, he booked a TV job for five weeks, which allowed him to briefly withdraw from unemployment benefits.
As his benefits run out, he plans to link up with a temp agency to find work. The last time he had a job outside of the theater was as a barista in 2013.
“I’m going to have to find an entry-level job somewhere,” Weisman said. “Because I succeeded in the thing I trained in and wanted to do, I have absolutely nothing to offer any other industry. It’s scary.”
Mohammad Kashem, who worked for almost two decades as a taxi driver, had similar difficulties switching industries. Before the pandemic, a bank seized his taxi medallion after he struggled to repay his loans amid a sharp drop in yellow taxi ridership.
Mr Kashem, an immigrant from Bangladesh who lives in Brooklyn, worked as a letter carrier during the pandemic but quit after a month, saying he was not used to delivering mail in rain and snow.
Her family is counting on $ 700 a week in unemployment benefits. He and his wife were unable to keep their jobs during the pandemic due to health issues, he said, noting that they both contracted the coronavirus and suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes.
When unemployment benefits expire, his wife can try to find a job as a babysitter. Mr. Kashem, 50, is distressed by the way he will pay the rent and school supplies for his three children.
“I drove a taxi for many, many years,” said Mr. Kashem. “I’m not used to other work.