Denise Tindall has spent nearly three decades driving children to school. But this fall will be different.
Tindall, 58, was a school bus driver with a private contractor in the Shelby County School District in Memphis, Tennessee, where fall classes are set to begin online. When schools shuttered in April, she filed for unemployment . But she hasn’t received a dime yet, she says.
“I’m barely making it,” says Tindall, whose brother and daughter have been giving her money to cover more than $1,000 in monthly bills including rent, utilities and phone costs. “If it weren’t for my family, I’d be homeless.”
Tindall is concerned about her future since she won’t be able to return to work for the foreseeable future.
“I’m too old to find a new career. I’m about to give up,” Tindall says. “I don’t have anything saved for retirement. My bank account is negative for the first time.”
‘Insulin or groceries’:How reduced unemployment affects struggling Americans from California to Mississippi
The stock market has done an about-face and is back near record highs after a coronavirus-fueled sell-off in March. But millions of Americans are still reeling following a wave of layoffs and financial losses stemming from the pandemic.
Through the end of July, more than 25 million out-of-work Americans could count on receiving a weekly federal $600 emergency income boost. But that expired. Now, about 82% of Americans believe the expiration of the $600 unemployment bonus will have an adverse effect on the U.S. economy, and more than two-thirds think economic growth will be much worse in the months to come, according to a Harris Poll survey conducted July 31 to Aug. 2. The data was given exclusively to USA TODAY.
“It’s clear that the unemployment benefits are a lifeline for Americans and the economy,” says John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll. “If they don’t get relief, Americans see this as a tipping point that could spell more trouble for their personal finances.”
The pessimism comes even as the U.S. added 1.8 million jobs in July. Payroll growth slowed amid a split-screen economy that saw employers stepping up hiring in parts of the country that continued to let businesses reopen, even as COVID-19 spikes forced Sunbelt firms to pull back and lay off workers.
The unemployment rate fell to 10.2% from 11.1% in June, the Labor Department said Friday.
In July, permanent job losses were little changed at 2.9 million, a positive sign following four consecutive months of increases. But total U.S. payrolls are still 13 million below the pre-pandemic level.
“Does today’s number imply economic conditions are significantly improved? No,” Seema Shah, chief strategist at investment advisory firm Principal Global Investors, said in a note Friday. “It simply suggests the labor market was static in July, showing no signs of renewed weakness that the increase in COVID-19 cases had threatened,”
To be sure, about 1.2 million people in the final week of July filed initial applications for unemployment insurance – a rough measure of layoffs – the Labor Department said Thursday, down substantially from 1.4 million the previous week and the lowest level since March. But the week’s total is still historically large.
Trump threatens to take executive action
Angst among unemployed Americans has grown as Republicans and Democrats continue to spar over what would be a fifth round of emergency stimulus funding to help counter the effects of the pandemic. Policymakers are seeking a compromise between Democrats’ $3 trillion proposal and a $1 trillion Republican recommendation.
Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on many issues at the heart of the next package, one of the biggest being the $600 boost to unemployment, which Democrats want to extend until at least January. But Republicans argue it’s too high and disincentivizes Americans to go back to work.
Republicans offered to cut the benefit to $200. The bonus bolsters state benefits that average about $370 a week nationally.
President Donald Trump has split with some of his GOP allies and softened his opposition to an extension of the $600 boost, threatening to take executive action if a deal isn’t reached with Democrats on a new relief package.
“We’re negotiating right now … and we’ll see how that works out,” Trump said Wednesday during a press conference. “My administration is exploring executive actions to provide protections against eviction. Eviction’s a big problem, very unfair to a lot of people … as well as additional relief to those who are unemployed as a result of the virus.”
Job insecurity remains
About 54% of Americans fear they may lose their job due to the coronavirus outbreak, Harris Poll data shows. Overall, nearly half expect their personal finances to be generally worse off in the coming months.
“There are two economies in the pandemic,”Gerzema says. “In general, older, wealthy Americans who are white are typically more confident that they’ll prosper. But the ones really feeling the pain are younger, lower income Americans and minorities.”
There’s been a shift in priorities and personal finances for Americans, who are twice as likely to prefer cleaning and sanitizing their home (50%) than to review personal finances and investments, such as a 401(k) retirement savings account (25%), according to a recent report from Voya Financial, a retirement and insurance plan provider.
The labor-market recovery has reached a critical juncture, economists say, with millions of workers at risk of prolonged unemployment just as the emergency unemployment benefits expire.
“Further labor market progress will require a forceful and immediate policy response across the country to contain the health crisis and avoid looming fiscal cliffs,” Lydia Boussour, senior U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, said in a note.