Freedman Consulting, LLC | Briefing for June 7-11, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities
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Briefing for June 7-11, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for June 7-11, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

We are struck that one of the few certainties about the coronavirus outbreak is that low-income communities and workers in low-income, service sector occupations will be disproportionately impacted — likely in devastating fashion.

One step in combatting this will be to share information about what is happening and what can be done. That’s why we are offering a daily news service summarizing relevant stories, which you can read below.

If you would like to receive a daily briefing, feel free to email schumitz@tfreedmanconsulting.com to subscribe.

Briefing for June 11, 2021



Despite ample shots and incentives, vaccination rates lag far behind in the South: From the New York Times: “Public health departments have held vaccine clinics at churches. They have organized rides to clinics. Gone door to door. Even offered a spin around a NASCAR track for anyone willing to get a shot. Still, the country’s vaccination campaign is sputtering, especially in the South, where there are far more doses than people who will take them. As reports of new COVID-19 cases and deaths plummet, and as many Americans venture out mask-free into something approaching normalcy, the slowdown in vaccinations presents a new risk. As coronavirus variants spread and restrictions are eased, experts fear that the virus could eventually surge again in states like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, where fewer than half of adults have started the vaccination process. ‘A lot of people have the sense, Oh, dodged that bullet,’ said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She added, ‘I don’t think people appreciate that if we let up on the vaccine efforts, we could be right back where we started.’ A range of theories has emerged about why the South, which as of Wednesday was home to eight of the 10 states with the lowest vaccination rates, lags behind the rest of the country: hesitancy from conservative white people, concerns among some Black residents, longstanding challenges when it comes to health care access and transportation. The answer, interviews across the region revealed, was all of the above.” 

Biden administration will limit COVID workplace safety rules to health care settings: Politico reports: “The Labor Department will limit long-awaited emergency COVID-19 workplace safety rules to the health care sector, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said Wednesday, a decision that disappointed unions pushing for more expansive rules but that will likely be a relief to businesses worried about new costs. The rules, which have been under White House review since late April and are set to be released Thursday, were expected by both unions and businesses to apply broadly to all workplaces and require workers to wear masks on the job. But the administration has decided it will instead update its optional guidance for general industry and has ‘tailored’ the mandatory safety requirements to apply only to health care settings, Walsh said. ‘OSHA has tailored a rule that focuses on health care, that science tells us that health care workers, particularly those who have come into regular contact with people either suspected of having or being treated for COVID-19 are most at risk,’ he said during a House Education and Labor Committee hearing Wednesday. ‘We also expect to release some updated guidance for general industry which also reflects the CDC’s latest guidance and tells employers how to protect workers who have not yet been vaccinated.’ The change in direction from the administration on the workplace safety requirements is a letdown for unions and Democrats who argue precautions like masking and social distancing are necessary to protect unvaccinated workers in all workplaces, who may not be getting the shot for a variety of reasons.” 

Study shows inaccessibility of paid leave for many low-income workers: Axios reports that about two-thirds of service-sector workers said they could not take leave, or took less leave than they wanted, when they experienced a major life event, according to a Harvard and UC San Francisco study released Thursday. Within this group, 71% said the reason was they couldn’t afford to. ”The study, which Axios is first to report, shows exactly how difficult it was for low-income workers to think about taking time off in the fall of 2020 — whether for a personal medical need, caregiving, a new child, or a combination of qualifying events. Men (38%) were more likely than women (28%) to say they didn’t take leave or as much as they would have liked to out of fear that they would lose their jobs. Hispanic workers (53%) and Black workers (49%) were the most likely to say they felt pressure to avoid taking time off or fear job loss compared with white workers (39%).” 

Fixing foster care: Naomi Schaefer Riley of the American Enterprise Institute argues in City Journal that aspects of the 2018 Family First Prevention Act have led to an alarming decrease in the number of available beds in group foster care facilities. “This past March, 237 foster children spent at least two nights sleeping in state offices in Texas — nearly seven times as many as March 2020. According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, most of those children were older or had severe behavioral or psychological needs. The department claimed that there were not enough foster parents and not enough beds in residential facilities for these children. The lack of foster parents is a problem in almost every state, and one we can only do so much to fix; government can’t force families to take in foster kids, and even the most qualified and well-meaning parents often don’t feel up to the task of caring for kids with special needs. But the lack of beds in child-care facilities is a problem of our own making, and one Washington should fix before it gets worse. Unfortunately, some child-welfare advocates are standing in the way of a solution.” 

Food allergies complicate hungry Americans’ search for food: From the Associated Press: “For the millions of Americans newly experiencing food insecurity during the pandemic, a particular crisis is hitting those with food allergies and intolerances: Most charitable and government food programs offer limited options. While some pantries maintain gluten-free shelves or post allergen information, most were forced to limit clients choices last year, instead turning to contactless models where clients drive up and take a pre-made bag of food. ‘Everybody deserves an equal opportunity to select their own foods,’ said Carla Carter, director of outreach and programming at the National Celiac Association. But, she said, ‘COVID-19 drastically changed that into: Here’s a box of food, good luck.’ Those signing up for government assistance face similar problems. The program for women, infants, and children — known as WIC — offers a substitute for peanut butter: It’s beans, not exactly useful for making sandwiches. Soy milk is a substitute for cow’s milk, but some people, like Brown’s child, can’t have either. Food stamps, or SNAP, let families choose what to buy, but specialized foods — like gluten free bread or sunflower seed butter — are often far more expensive. In some stores, the latter costs triple the cost of store-brand peanut butter, gluten free flour costs four times a standard bag, and even the cheapest dairy milk alternatives are often double the price.” 

Briefing for June 10, 2021



Broken system can’t keep track of Native deaths: From the Indigenous Investigative Collective, a project of the Native American Journalists Association: “In May of 2020, the Navajo Nation reported one of the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rates in the United States. Since that milestone, official data reveals that the Navajo Nation has been one of the hardest-hit populations during the pandemic. The Navajo Nation boasts the largest population of any Indigenous nation in the United States, and thousands of Navajos live outside the nation, in towns along the border, cities across the country, and in other parts of the world, making it difficult to tally the virus’ impacts on Navajo citizens. It’s made worse by a labyrinthian system of local, state, federal, and tribal data-reporting systems that often do not communicate with each other or share information. In an effort to come up with a more reliable fatality count, reporters with the Indigenous Investigative Collective made multiple public-records requests for death records held by state medical examiners of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Those requests focused on the counties on or adjacent to the Navajo Nation where many Navajo families live. The states rejected those requests, citing privacy concerns, preventing independent analysis of those records to determine death rates. Experts also cite pervasive misidentification of race and ethnicity of victims at critical data collection points, making the true toll of the pandemic on the Navajo Nation impossible to ever know. The Indigenous Investigative Collective has found that those data problems extend nationwide. As of June 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 6,585 American Indians and Alaska Natives have died from COVID-19 — the highest rate of any ethnic group in the United States. That estimate likely falls far short of the actual death toll. ‘Even though right now we’re showing as having some of the highest death rates, it’s a gross undercount,’ said Abigail Echo-Hawk, Pawnee, director of the Urban Indian Health Institute based in Seattle, Washington, one of 12 nationally recognized tribal epidemiology centers in the country.” 

COVID prolonged foster care for thousands: An analysis of child welfare data from 34 states by the Associated Press found that thousands of families across the country had their reunifications snarled in the foster care system as courts delayed cases, went virtual, or temporarily shut down. The decrease in children leaving foster care means families are lingering longer in a system intended to be temporary, as critical services were shuttered or limited. Vulnerable families are suffering long-term and perhaps irreversible damage, experts say, which could leave parents with weakened bonds with their children. The AP’s analysis found at least 8,700 fewer reunifications during the early months of the pandemic compared with the March-to-December period the year before — a decrease of 16%. Adoptions, too, dropped — by 23%, according to the analysis. Overall, at least 22,600 fewer children left foster care compared with 2019. “Everybody needed extra help, and nobody was getting extra help,” said Shawn Powell, a Parents for Parents advocacy program coordinator in King County, Washington. 

Education Dept. issues directive to shield low-income students from funding cuts: Education Week reports on new guidance issued by the Biden administration that details “how states and certain school districts must protect high-poverty districts and schools from funding cuts as a condition of receiving their share of some $122 billion in COVID-19 relief money approved by Congress in March. The guidance announced Wednesday about provisions of the American Rescue Plan comes as the administration launches a public relations blitz on equity issues, including the release of a report confirming concerns many educators have raised about the pandemic’s impact on vulnerable students and on student mental health. ‘For the first time ever, these [maintenance of equity] requirements will ensure that school districts and schools serving a large share of students from low-income backgrounds will not experience disproportionate budget cuts — and that the school districts with the highest poverty do not receive any decrease in state per-pupil funding below their pre-pandemic level,’ the department said in a statement unveiling the guidance, which is nonbinding. ‘In addition, high-poverty schools will also be protected from disproportionate cuts to staffing.’” 

Cross-country tour marks 20 years of activism: For Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, June 16 marks 20 years in his post. To mark that milestone, he’s headed out on a cross-country car tour to visit local chapters and make the case that while the pandemic is thankfully easing, the hunger crisis in America remains a looming danger. A specific message Berg is pushing is that while the response of the charitable sector during the COVID-19 crisis has been laudable, private anti-hunger dollars are dwarfed by the importance of the federal safety net, and key pieces of that system are being debated on Capitol Hill, including new proposals from the Biden administration to add additional resources to anti-hunger programs. Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity caught up with Berg recently somewhere in western Massachusetts. 

HUD to re-instate Obama-era fair housing rule: From the Washington Post: “Nearly a year after the Trump administration replaced an Obama-era fair housing rule that critics decried as ‘burdensome’ and that President Donald Trump alleged would ‘abolish’ suburbs, President Biden’s housing department is restoring the requirement that communities take steps to reduce racial segregation or risk losing federal funds. But missing from the requirement is the 2015 mandate that communities undergo an extensive analysis of local barriers to integration and submit plans to dismantle them to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to senior HUD officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ‘interim final rule’ before its publication in the Federal Register on Thursday. Biden administration HUD officials said the creation and review of these assessments of fair housing ‘proved to be unnecessarily burdensome’ for communities as well as the agency, echoing some of the complaints voiced by former HUD secretary Ben Carson.” 

Briefing for June 9, 2021



The striking racial divide in how COVID impacted nursing homes: A collaboration between the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, LAist and the Southern Illinoisan reports: “The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the nation’s nursing homes, sickening staff members, ravaging residents, and contributing to at least 20% of the nation’s COVID-19 death toll. The impact has been felt in cities and suburbs, in large facilities and small, in poorly rated homes and in those with stellar marks. But COVID-19 has been particularly virulent toward African-Americans and Latinos: Nursing homes where those groups make up a significant portion of the residents — no matter their location, no matter their size, no matter their government rating — have been twice as likely to get hit by the coronavirus as those where the population is overwhelmingly white. More than 60% of nursing homes where at least a quarter of the residents are Black or Latino have reported at least one coronavirus case, a New York Times analysis shows. That is double the rate of homes where Back and Latino people make up less than 5% of the population. And in nursing homes, a single case often leads to a handful of cases, and then a full-fledged outbreak.” 

It’s not just voting and COVID How red states are overriding their blue cities: Ron Brownstein writes for CNN: “Republican-controlled states have escalated their offensive against Democratic-controlled cities and counties this year to unprecedented heights, further deepening the trench between red and blue America. From Key West, Florida, to Bozeman, Montana, from Atlanta to Houston, local communities predominantly governed by Democrats have seen more of their policy decisions overridden by Republican legislatures and governors. This surge of state preemption began with aggressive efforts by Republican governors to override local public health rules during the coronavirus pandemic, but in this year’s legislative session it has spread to cover a panoramic range of issues. GOP-run states have reversed local decisions on everything from voting rules to police funding levels, from policies on homelessness and energy to zoning and fees on developers. In Key West’s case, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature even overturned a local ballot initiative barring giant cruise ships from docking in the small community. ‘The level of preemption is only growing,’ says Brooks Rainwater, director of the Center for City Solutions at the National League of Cities. ‘We are just seeing this happen all throughout the country.'” 

Bankruptcy spike expected as COVID eviction halt nears end: From Bloomberg Law: “An unprecedented amount of unpaid rent is making bankruptcy a more attractive option for millions of Americans grappling with paying their landlords as COVID-19 relief measures come to an end. Renters generally can’t use bankruptcy to avoid eviction unless they can work out a plan to pay back accrued rent. But for tenants prepared to relinquish their leases, the process can slow an eviction and allow them to get out of paying built-up rent debt. And this feature is expected to grab more tenants’ attention as the federal government’s eviction moratorium is set to expire June 30. Nearly 7 million Americans reported being behind on rent as of late April, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. Some 5 million more renters lacked confidence they could cover upcoming payments. ‘Up until the pandemic, past due rent has not really been one of the reasons for people going into bankruptcy,’ said consumer bankruptcy attorney Jay Fleischman of Shaev & Fleischman PC. ‘With so many people past due on their rent, I expect a sea change.’” 

The American Families Plan should give families more freedom to choose: Writing for the Deseret News, Margarita Mooney Suarez and W. Bradley Wilcox make the case that President Biden’s sweeping new legislation ignores the diverse perspectives of families. “America is a big country, and an increasingly diverse one at that. We differ by ethnicity, race, religion, and worldview. This diversity extends to how we educate, socialize, and care for our children — including our infants and toddlers. When it comes to caring for young children, some parents prefer to rely on a stay-at-home parent, others day care, others grandma, and still others a mix of these arrangements. Unfortunately, the American Families Plan that President Joe Biden put forward to help parents did not take account of this diversity. Although we applaud his plan’s support for a child allowance, which would give parents the choice about how to best use a monthly child allowance of $300 to raise their young kids, the president is also pushing a massive expansion of federal spending for child care. His plan would spend $225 billion on an effort to get more young children into day care, thereby creating a powerful public policy incentive in favor of just one way of caring for our youngest kids: relying on center care. Biden’s plan thereby ignores the diverse perspectives of parents like Andrea Nunez, a 25-year-old mother in St. Petersburg, Florida. ‘Both grandmas lived nearby and took turns caring for our daughter,’ she said. ‘It’s great having someone you trust knowing that she is going to be in good hands.’ Mooney Suarez is an associate professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and coauthor of ‘Familia Si, Guarderia No: Hispanics Least Likely to Prefer and Use Paid Child Care.’ Wilcox, professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, is a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.” 

How to stop hedge funds from wrecking local news: Steven Waldman, president of Report for America and chair of the Rebuild Local News Coalition, writes for the Los Angeles Times that Congress must lead the way to keep mounting hedge fund acquisitions of legacy newsrooms from destroying local journalism. “A bipartisan bill called the Local Journalism Sustainability Act provides tax credits for consumers to either buy a news subscription or donate to a local news nonprofit. It also provides a tax credit for small businesses to advertise in local newspapers. This measure has support from both political parties because consumers and businesses choose which newsrooms to subsidize, not someone at a federal government agency. In addition, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has proposed including assistance for local news in the infrastructure bill. Local news is the infrastructure of democracy, and it is crumbling.” 

Briefing for June 8, 2021



Federal unemployment aid is now a political lightning rod: The New York Times looks at the looming cutoff of federal unemployment aid in 25 Republican-led states. “Of the more than four million people whose jobless benefits are going to be cut off in the next few weeks, Bre Starr will be among the first. That’s because Ms. Starr — a 34-year-old pizza delivery driver who has been out of work for more than a year — lives in Iowa, where the governor has decided to withdraw from all federal pandemic-related jobless assistance next Saturday. Iowa is one of 25 states, all led by Republicans, that have recently decided to halt some or all emergency benefits months ahead of schedule. With a Labor Department report on Friday showing that job growth fell below expectations for the second month in a row, Republicans stepped up their argument that pandemic jobless relief is hindering the recovery. The assistance, renewed in March and funded through Sept. 6, doesn’t cost the states anything. But business owners and managers have argued that the income, which enabled people to pay rent and stock refrigerators when much of the economy shut down, is now dissuading them from applying for jobs. ‘Now that our businesses and schools have reopened, these payments are discouraging people from returning to work,’ Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa said in announcing the cutoff. ‘We have more jobs available than unemployed people.’” 

What COVID has stolen from Black America: Through the death of civil rights activist Howard Croft, Peter Jamison of the Washington Post looks at the devastating toll the pandemic has brought to the generation of African-Americans who were part of the civil rights movement. “Now, like nearly 600,000 others this past year, Croft is gone. He was 78, a member of the generation the virus stalked most mercilessly. He was Black, as were three-quarters of the 1,136 people the pandemic has killed in the nation’s capital… a conduit to a past that those left behind can hardly fathom. Hundreds of thousands of families across the country lost their elders to the pandemic, and with every one there vanished a piece of history. But the piece of history that vanished with Croft was especially remarkable. He belonged to the generation of Black activists who challenged segregation alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., joining Freedom Rides and confronting the Klan, marching in Selma, Ala., and in Washington. They lived for their ideals, and sometimes died for them.” 

Biden’s vaccine push fails to gain traction with African-Americans: From Politico: “The Biden administration knew the key to a successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign would be reaching the most vulnerable populations. But more than five months in, even a blueprint that’s worked with other ethnic and racial groups isn’t doing enough to win over Black Americans. Less than a quarter of Black Americans had received their first COVID-19 shot as of June 7 based on available federal data, amid a weekslong stagnation that has defied the government’s ramped-up effort to accelerate vaccinations and reach the nation’s most vulnerable communities. The slowdown has put Black Americans behind the pace set over the past month by other racial and ethnic groups tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The trend line worries health officials and experts who say the immunization drive is running into a particularly complex web of distrust, outreach challenges, and stubborn barriers to access. ‘It’s a tough layer that we have to address — it requires relationship building and it’s going to take a little longer,’ said Octavio Martinez, executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, who sits on the White House’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. ‘We have a systemic issue here.’” 

COVID was a tipping point for telehealth and some want virtual visits to stay: From Kaiser Health News: “As the COVID crisis wanes and life approaches normal across the U.S., health industry leaders and many patient advocates are pushing Congress and the Biden administration to preserve the pandemic-fueled expansion of telehealth that has transformed how millions of Americans see the doctor. The broad effort reaches across the nation’s diverse health care system, bringing together consumer groups with health insurers, state Medicaid officials, physician organizations, and telehealth vendors. And it represents an emerging consensus that many services that once required an office visit can be provided easily and safely — and often more effectively — through a video chat, a phone call, or even an email. ‘We’ve seen that telehealth is an extraordinary tool,’ said David Holmberg, chief executive of Pittsburgh-based Highmark, a multistate insurer that also operates a major medical system. ‘It’s convenient for the patient, and it’s convenient for the doctor… now we need to make it sustainable and enduring.’ 

Stores enlist shoppers to stop bad behavior against workers: The Associated Press reports that a dozen retailers, including Gap and H&M, are collaborating on a campaign this fall to enlist customers to combat bad behavior against retail workers. “The campaign, spearheaded by nonprofits Open to All and Hollaback as well as the Retail Industry Leaders Association, comes as workers face increased harassment as they try to enforce social distancing and mask protocols during the pandemic. Among those who have been the targets of abuse are people of color, those with disabilities, and those who identify as LGBTQ. Calla Devlin Rongerude, director of Open to All, said the campaign is not asking customers to step in to physically stop altercations, but rather to help de-escalate the situation and show support for workers. Participating retailers will have signage in their stores with QR codes, allowing customers to sign a pledge of support. There will also be a tool kit designed by Hollaback to show how customers can help, including how to create a distraction for the abuser as well as documenting the situation and bringing in someone else to help.” 

Briefing for June 7, 2021



With roots in civil rights, community health centers push for equity during pandemic: WWNO in New Orleans looks at the efforts of community health centers to vaccinate residents of the Mississippi Delta: “In the 1960s, health care for Black residents in rural Mississippi was meager. Most health systems were segregated. Although some hospitals did serve Black patients, they struggled to stay afloat. At the height of the civil rights movement, young Black doctors decided to launch a movement of their own. ‘Mississippi was third-world and was so bad and so separated,’ says Dr. Robert Smith. ‘The community health center movement was the conduit for physicians all over this country who believed that all people have a right to health care.’ In 1967, Smith helped start Delta Health Center, the country’s first rural community health center. They put the clinic in Mound Bayou, a small town in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, in the northwest part of the state. The center became a national model and is now one of nearly 1,400 such clinics across the country. These federally-funded health clinics (often called FQHCs) are a key resource in the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, where about 2 in 5 Americans live in rural areas. (Throughout the U.S., about 1 in 5 Americans live in rural areas.) The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges facing rural health care, such as lack of broadband access and limited public transportation. For much of the vaccine rollout, those barriers have made it difficult for providers, like community health centers, to get shots in the arms of their patients. ‘I just assumed that [the vaccine] would flow like water, but we really had to pry open the door to get access to it,’ says Smith, who still practices family medicine in Mississippi.” 
 
Community health centers are helping make vaccinations more equitable, but more can be done: A new issue brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation examines how well community health centers have done in recent months making COVID vaccines available to communities of color. Key points: 

  • Over the period of January 8 through May 21, 2021, people of color made up nearly two-thirds (64%) of people receiving the first dose and 61% of people receiving the second/final dose of the vaccine at health centers. 
  • Weekly data show that the share of first doses administered to people of color at health centers has grown from 34% in early January to 77% in the week ending May 21. Growth was especially rapid among Hispanic people, who made up 17% of first doses administered in the first week of January, growing to a high of 52% in the week of May 7. 
  • People of color represent greater shares of vaccinations at health centers compared to their shares of vaccinations nationally based on data reported by the CDC, especially for Hispanic people.  
  • Health centers appear to be vaccinating people of color at similar or higher rates than their shares of the U.S. population, but data suggest there remain opportunities for health centers to reach more Black patientsThe shares of people vaccinated at health centers who were Black, Hispanic, and Asian matched or exceeded their shares of the U.S. population. However, Black peoples’ share of health center vaccinations was lower than their share of the health center patient population for both first and second/final doses administered. 


Flawed data makes it hard to track vaccine equity: From a reporting project including KCUR in Kansas City, NPR, and Kaiser Health News: “Throughout the COVID-19 vaccination effort, public health officials and politicians have insisted that providing shots equitably across racial and ethnic groups is a top priority. But it’s been left up to states to decide how to do that and to collect racial and ethnic data on vaccinated individuals so states can track how well they’re doing reaching all groups. The gaps and inconsistencies in the data have made it difficult to understand who’s actually getting shots. Just as an uneven approach to containing the coronavirus led to a greater toll for Black and Latino communities, the inconsistent data guiding vaccination efforts may be leaving the same groups out on vaccines, said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at the University of California-San Francisco. ‘At the very least, we need the same uniform standards that every state is using, and every location that administers vaccine is using, so that we can have some comparisons and design better strategies to reach the populations we’re trying to reach,’ Bibbins-Domingo said.” 

New 50-state ranking shows where seniors on Medicare get best health care: From USA Today: “Seniors in states that invested in their health systems enjoy a higher quality of overall care, a new 50-state ranking shows. Researchers compared health care in 24 categories for Medicare recipients in all 50 states and Washington D.C. related to cost, quality, and access. The data, taken from publicly available databases, was weighed equally against each other before being averaged out, giving each state an overall score. The analysis, conducted by insurance technology company MedicareGuide.com, ranked Minnesota first with North Dakota close behind. Massachusetts and California followed in the third and fourth spots. Nebraska ranked fifth, and Hawaii followed in sixth. The results of the study aren’t surprising to MedicareGuide co-founder and long-time health care advocate Jeff Smedsrud. ‘What’s interesting is that those states, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Minnesota, Hawaii, even North Dakota, that embraced improving access to health care 35, 40 years ago are among the national leaders now in providing the best care for those on Medicare,’ he said. Not all states received such high marks. Washington D.C. and Georgia were ranked overall 49 and 50, respectively. Dead last was Oklahoma.”  

Workers are gaining leverage on employers right before our eyes: The Upshot column of the New York Times looks at the seismic shift of the balance of power between employers and employees following the pandemic: “The relationship between American businesses and their employees is undergoing a profound shift: For the first time in a generation, workers are gaining the upper hand. The change is broader than the pandemic-related signing bonuses at fast-food places. Up and down the wage scale, companies are becoming more willing to pay a little more, to train workers, to take chances on people without traditional qualifications, and to show greater flexibility in where and how people work. The erosion of employer power began during the low-unemployment years leading up to the pandemic and, given demographic trends, could persist for years. March had a record number of open positions, according to federal data that goes back to 2000, and workers were voluntarily leaving their jobs at a rate that matches its historical high. Burning Glass Technologies, a firm that analyzes millions of job listings a day, found that the share of postings that say ‘no experience necessary’ is up two-thirds over 2019 levels, while the share of those promising a starting bonus has doubled.” 

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