Briefing for October 5-9, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for October 5-9, 2020 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 this daily news service summarizing relevant stories, and a concise weekly summary alternative as well.  You can see it below.

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Briefing for October 9, 2020

One in four Americans say they are delaying retirement because of COVID-19: According to new survey data from LendingTree and investing app Stash, one in four Americans expect to delay their retirement plans because of the economic impacts of COVID-19. The survey, conducted in August 2020, asked 4,955 people about their financial preparedness before the pandemic, and how the pandemic will shape their future finances. The data shows that the pandemic hasn’t affected everyone’s finances equally, especially when it comes to retirement savings. About one in three people making $35,000 per year or less reported expecting to delay their retirement, according to the LendingTree and Stash data. Only about 17% of people earning $100,000 per year expected to delay their retirement.  

The pandemic is forcing women out of the workforce. There’s a way to fix that: Dan Lips, a visiting fellow with the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, writes for The Dispatch: “Many factors are changing Americans’ employment opportunities: economic shutdowns, reduced demand for some professions, and more. But caring for children is posing a specific challenge to working parents, particularly women who are often primary caregivers. The Census Bureau recently reported that 25 percent of parents (ages 25 to 44) were not working because of childcare challenges caused by the pandemic. Women were nearly three times more likely than men to be out of work to provide childcare. In the short term, this new childcare burden highlights why American schools should reopen, particularly given the promising public health evidence that it is safe to do so. Looking beyond the pandemic, reforming public childcare programs to yield greater value for working parents should be a bipartisan priority to improve economic opportunity.” 

Homelessness is historically undercounted in the Census. Can a count during a pandemic possibly be accurate? The U.S. Census Bureau is supposed to make it easy for homeless people like Davis to be enumerated. This year, however, calculated plans to count people without conventional housing were upended by the pandemic, leaving experts and advocates alike concerned that the 2020 Census would pass over a vulnerable population hit especially hard by the dual health and economic crises. 

TANF is a key part of the aid keeping families afloat during the pandemic: Justin Schweitzer of the Center for American Progress calls for Congress to strengthen the role the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program can play during the pandemic by:

  • Creating a new TANF Emergency Contingency Fund that prioritizes, expands, and boosts cash assistance. 
  • Creating better incentives for states by suspending work participation rate (WPR) requirements and updating the caseload reduction credit (CRC) base year to encourage states to increase caseloads. 
  • Broadening eligibility for TANF by basing eligibility on monthly or continuing income and increasing the income threshold; allowing childless adults to sign up, at least during the crisis; suspending all work and work search requirements and sanctions; freezing lifetime use limits and recertification determinations; and considering other eligibility changes. 
  • Helping states target money to their residents’ specific needs by making nonrecurrent short-term (NRST) benefits last more than four months and creating a large, subsidized jobs program without a specified end date. 

Three strategies to combat the joint legacies of racial segregation and police brutality in public housing: From the Urban Institute: “Evidence shows frequent police presence and use of force are seen disproportionately in neighborhoods of color. To allow people to feel protected in their homes and neighborhoods, state and local policymakers can consider how to address the connections between policing, public housing, and neighborhood change.” Three suggested strategies:  

Less than 11 percent of people with federal student loan debt are repaying their loans during the pandemic: Less than 11% of people with federal student loans are repaying them during the pandemic, according to data analyzed by higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz. That means about 4.6 million out of 42 million borrowers are continuing to pay down their debt. The government’s so-called coronavirus forbearance on federal student loans has freed up money for basic essentials for many borrowers, many of whom have seen their income dry up due to the public health crisis. It’s also given people a window into what life would be like without education debt. 

Biden/Harris proposals could cut poverty in half: Dylan Matthews of Vox writes: “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have an opportunity to cut poverty in America in half. A new study finds that the Democratic ticket has put forward or endorsed a set of proposals that, taken together, could add up to the biggest anti-poverty plan in decades. Three specific measures — Biden’s plan to make Section 8 housing vouchers universalcongressional Democrats’ plan for a $3,000-a-year child allowance ($3,600 for kids under 6), and Harris’s LIFT Act proposing new tax credits for low-income households — would have lowered the poverty rate from 12.7 percent to 6.5 percent if they had been adopted in 2018, according to researchers at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia. That’s 20.2 million fewer people living in poverty.” 

Domestic workers react with anger after Trump says ‘don’t be afraid of COVID’: There are more than 2 million domestic workers in the U.S. – people who work in private homes cleaning and taking care of children, older adults and people with disabilities, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The vast majority of these workers are women, and over half are women of color. “The administration’s failure to act over the past six months have put the lives of millions of domestic workers across the country at risk,” said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She added that the administration’s actions over the past week, flouting the CDC’s coronavirus guidance at a White House gathering on September 26 while refusing to wear a face mask, “have put the lives of essential domesticworkers in the White House at additional unnecessary risk.”

Briefing for October 8, 2020

Designing a paid leave policy to support vulnerable workers: A new paper from the American Enterprise Institute explores how best to take advantage of growing political support for a federal paid leave program while making sure it would bring maximum benefit to low-wage workers. From the report: “Research shows that many existing paid leave programs in the US and other countries impose costs on vulnerable populations due to regressive funding sources and fewer benefits to low-income parents caused by this group’s low program take-up rate. However, paid family leave programs offer significant advantages for low-income parents, increasing parents’ access to paid time off and benefiting low-income children financially and developmentally. Balancing these findings requires designing a public paid family leave program that supports low-wage working parents, limits private-sector benefit crowd out, and reduces the regressivity of funding.” 

Outdated assumptions mask true poverty rate: Shawn Fremstad of the Center for Economic Policy and Research writes for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity that real poverty would be much higher if the Census Bureau poverty measure was not based on outdated, 1959 assumptions. 

Unemployed in New Orleans find careers in community health: Service workers in New Orleans who were laid off because of the coronavirus’s impact on the economy are earning a living again by helping others survive during the pandemic. Unemployed bartenders, musicians and casino employees who were among the thousands of service industry workers left without jobs when the city closed its bars and nightclubs in late March have been recruited to train and work with Resilience Force. The national nonprofit puts people to work in disaster recovery programs that focus on Black and other minority communities.  

Refuge in the storm? ACA’s role as safety net is tested by coronavirus recession: The Affordable Care Act, facing its first test during a deep recession, is providing a refuge for some — but by no means all — people who have lost health coverage as the economy has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic. New studies, from both federal and private research groups, generally indicate that when the country marked precipitous job losses from March to May — with more than 25 million people forced out of work — the loss of health insurance was less dramatic. That’s partly because large numbers of mostly low-income workers who lost employment during the crisis were in jobs that already did not provide health insurance. It helped that many employers chose to leave furloughed and temporarily laid-off workers on the company insurance plan. And others who lost health benefits along with their job immediately sought alternatives, such as coverage through a spouse’s or parent’s job, Medicaid or plans offered on the state-based ACA marketplaces. 

Coronavirus worsens food insecurity in Puerto Rico, as loss of federal aid looms: Food insecurity in Puerto Rico has been a longstanding problem since the island embarked on the largest municipal bankruptcy proceeding in U.S. history less than a decade ago. About one-third of adults reported facing difficulties affording adequate nutrition in 2015, according to the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics. The devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, recent earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic have only worsened living conditions on the island—making people more likely to skip meals or eat smaller portions to make food last longer. The increasing demand for basic nutrition coincides with a looming funding cliff that stands to eliminate or reduce food assistance to 1.5 million Puerto Ricans, including over 300,000 children, according to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute. 

Pandemic amplifies voter disenfranchisement: As COVID-19 continues to disproportionately impact minorities, some experts warn the pandemic may make it even harder for certain groups to vote in the upcoming election. “There’s a lot of ways in which Americans can be shut out of the Democratic process. And what COVID has done is it has taken all of those cracks in the system and made them visible, made those cracks widened, and it’s added some of its own burdens to them,” Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told ABC News. 

To tackle racial COVID-19 disparities, California enacts new metric for reopening: There are many things still unknown about the coronavirus. But one thing is certain: the disproportionate harm COVID-19 has caused in communities of color. To address the issue, California has implemented a new health equity requirement on the state’s 35 largest counties — those with a population of more than 106,000. It’s believed to be the first such measure in the U.S. In order to advance to the next phase of economic reopening, counties like Los Angeles will need to reduce the levels of the virus in their most vulnerable communities — by meeting certain test-positivity goals as well as showing targeted investments in resources such as more increased testing, contact tracing and education. 

A slow ‘train wreck’ for California’s homeless: From the Los Angeles Times: “This was supposed to be the year that California finally did something about its epidemic of homelessness. On Feb. 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom stood before lawmakers in the state Capitol, and delivered an unprecedented State of the State address devoted entirely to the homelessness crisis. California is home to one-quarter of the nation’s homeless population, a grim distinction painfully visible not only on city sidewalks, but also along the state’s freeways and farm levees, in its urban parks and suburban strip malls. Past administrations had mostly ignored the problem, Newsom said, but he’d be different. “It’s a disgrace that the richest state in the richest nation — succeeding across so many sectors — is falling so far behind to properly house, heal and humanely treat so many of its own people,” he told the crowd. But even as Newsom spoke, a different epidemic was advancing silently across the state. Exactly one month later, he would order a far-reaching statewide shutdown, asking every person in California not working in an essential industry to shelter at home in an effort to stave off COVID-19.”

Briefing for October 7, 2020

Evictions are on pause but many renters still can’t pay: A state-by-state analysis by the Urban Institute finds that if federal aid like that provided by the CARES Act is not resumed, it would still leave approximately half of renters facing burdens nationally.

Congress must take swift action or see the jobless rate soar this winter: On the same day President Trump called an end to negotiations on a new pandemic stimulus package, Georgetown University professor Adriana Kugler wrote for The Hill that a failure to extend unemployment insurance would “set millions of people and their families at risk of falling into poverty, forcing people to turn to other safety net programs. It would push more workers out of the labor market. It would also worsen the kinds of jobs available once the economy recovers.” 

Trump’s medical treatment underscores inequities in access to care: From STAT: “As the symptoms of COVID-19 took hold, President Trump got an infusion of an experimental antibody cocktail and was whisked by helicopter to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. When his oxygen levels dipped, he was quickly put on a steroid normally given to patients with severe cases of the disease. At every step of the way, the president has had a team of expert physicians carefully monitoring his care. That experience is a world away from the stressful waiting game most patients wade through after a positive test. They are told to stay home and monitor their symptoms. If they do become severely ill, there is only a remote chance they will get access to the antibody cocktail, which was developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and is being tested in clinical trials. The company said Monday that the president was among fewer than 10 people who have gotten access to the drug through a compassionate use program. “Covid is all about privilege. The more privilege you have, the more you can ignore some of the rules of Covid. Where one person would need to be in the hospital, another person can have the hospital come to them. That’s privilege,” said Lakshman Swamy, an ICU physician at Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts.”

Sabotage in the liberal city: The New York Times’ Ross Douthat argues that the progressive policies of major U.S. cities such as limited school reopening “may be a well-intentioned liberal betrayal of their interests, a hollowing-out of the institutions that protect and serve them, and the deepening of America’s racial inequalities even if Trumpism goes down to defeat.”

Teen disengagement is on the rise: A report by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution finds that the pandemic threatens to end decades of decreases in teen labor force participation. “The severity of the economic shock in combination with school closures could pull teens out of school, out of the labor market, or could cause them to become disengaged from both work and school.”

Few in number, Black residents in Appalachia push for justice: Months after a wave of anti-police brutality and Black Lives Matter demonstrations stretched into rural, largely White areas, the organizing persists in pockets of Central Appalachia. Young and old are sharpening their political voices and strengthening alliances across races. Their work, however, serves as an example of the challenges organizers face in pushing for racial justice in areas where people of color are few. Some Black residents say they feel physically and psychologically isolated. In Central Appalachia, the Black population is small, and therefore easily overlooked by White people and mainstream media, residents and experts say. Few Black residents or any people of color are represented in the highest ranks of local political leadership. People of all ages agree: There’s a disconnect between their generations. An above average unemployment rate pushes young adults to seek opportunity elsewhere.

Women risk losing decades of advances in the pandemic: Stephanie M.H. Moore of Indiana University writes for The Conversation: “American women have made strides in the workplace over the past half-century in terms of earnings, employment and careers– in no small part thanks to the efforts of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The COVID-19 pandemic risks undoing many of these gains in a matter of months. Without concrete action, I believe a generation of women may never fully recover. One group of women who are at particular risk are those in professional fields. While fortunate enough to have quality jobs, many are being forced by the increased demands of child care to reduce working hours – or to stop working altogether. Mothers have always handled more of a household’s child care than fathers have, but it has become further lopsided since lockdowns began earlier this year. As a result, more than one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely, according to a study of 317 companies released Sept. 30. And the latest jobs report out on Oct. 2 found that women’s participation rate in the labor market continues to fall faster than for men.

Briefing for October 6, 2020

The people Trump came home to: From Elaine Godfrey and Adam Harris at The Atlantic: “On any given morning, the White House is a blur of activity. A chef may be whipping up breakfast for the first couple in the second-floor kitchen. A valet might be shining the president’s shoes, while the head butler lingers in the West Sitting Hall, awaiting any urgent presidential requests. Housekeepers, maybe a dozen of them, could be deployed throughout the building, vacuuming, polishing, and dusting. The White House florist might be arranging a vase full of lilies and hydrangeas, as painters touch up scuffs along the baseboards. When Donald Trump returned to the White House today after his brief stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, these are the people he came home to. Trump and the first lady interact with dozens of White House employees every day, many of them nonpolitical and largely invisible to the American public. Because of his months-long failure to take COVID-19 seriously even inside his own home, Trump continues to place these staff members and their families at considerable risk. Which is to say that the blast radius from the president’s and the first lady’s illness could be a lot larger than many Americans realize. ‘There are people behind the people,’ Deesha Dyer, the White House social secretary under Barack Obama, told us. And ‘they don’t have the privilege of being Marine One–ed to Walter Reed’ if they get sick.” 

The Paycheck Protection Program failed many Black-owned businesses: According to August survey results that the advocacy group Small Business Majority provided to Vox, the program appeared to reach a lower proportion of Black-owned businesses in particular. In that poll, 23% of Black business owners who did not receive PPP or Economic Injury Disaster Loans said their PPP applications were denied, compared to 9% of white business owners, 13% of Latino business owners, and 9% of Asian American business owners. And in Michigan overall, only 3 restaurants that received PPP loans of $150,000 or more self-identified as Black-owned, compared to 223 that self-identified as white-owned, according to the Detroit Free Press.  

Cities declare racism a crisis, but some doubt impact: Since last year, about 70 cities, roughly three dozen counties and three states have declared racism a public health crisis, according to the American Public Health Association. Local leaders say formally acknowledging the role racism plays not just in health care but in housing, the environment, policing and food access is a bold step, especially when it wasn’t always a common notion among public health experts. But what the declarations do to address systemic inequalities vary widely, with skeptics saying they are merely symbolic. 

K-shaped recoveries can end well for everyone: Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute writes for Bloomberg Opinion that while the initial coronavirus economic recovery seems to be largely helping the affluent, “the first stages of economic expansions don’t necessarily tell the full story. Lower-income households fare better as recoveries strengthen. That’s likely to happen this time, too. Unemployment spiked for workers in all education groups in the spring as the coronavirus and lockdown orders sent the labor market into a free fall. But it rose considerably more for workers with less education.” 

Day-care slots for babies are vanishing now their parents can’t work: There is a child-care shortage for the youngest Americans. There have always been more limited openings at centers for the smallest kids — because babies are more expensive to care for than older children — but the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. That means that some of those hurting the worst from today’s shortage are the families of the littlest and most vulnerable children. 

How the loneliness of isolation can affect the brains of older adults: From PBS NewsHour: “As scholars at the Center for Healthy Aging at Penn State, we study the impact of stress on the aging body and brain, including how it can worsen cognitive decline and risk for dementia. The social isolation older adults are experiencing now amid the coronavirus pandemic is raising new mental health risks, but there are things people can do to protect themselves.” 

Prison labor is on the frontlines of the pandemic: States like California, New York, and Arizona have relied on prisoners to continue working, with little pay and in precarious conditions, during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Briefing for October 5, 2020

Advisory panel calls for groups with low incomes to get priority access to COVID-19 vaccine: A U.S. advisory panel made recommendations on Friday for who should be first in line to get a COVID-19 vaccine, including a plea for special efforts by states and cities to get the shots to low-income minority groups. As expected, the panel recommended health care workers and first responders get first priority when vaccine supplies are limited. The shots should be provided free to all, the panel said. And throughout the vaccine campaign, efforts also should focus on disadvantaged areas to remedy racial health disparities. “Inequity has been a hallmark of this pandemic, both locally and globally,” said the report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), noting “an awakening to the power of racism, poverty, and bias in amplifying the health and economic pain and hardship imposed by this pandemic.”

NASEM study is just the latest report to call for targeted priority access for vaccine: VOX points out that three recent reports, including the NASEM study, “agree that the country should take a phased approach to allocation and that front-line health care workers should get the vaccine in the first phase, before other population groups. They also agree that racial equity is key. NASEM specifies that it should be a crosscutting consideration in each phase of allocation, meaning that within each population group, vaccine access should be prioritized for geographic areas that are especially vulnerable.”

Trump officials pressured CDC to change report on COVID-19 and kids: Politico’s Dan Diamond reports: “In early September, as many school districts were still deciding whether to hold in-person classes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention altered the title of a scientific report on the coronavirus and removed words like ‘pediatric’ from its text, days after a Trump administration appointee requested similar changes, according to emails obtained by POLITICO. That request — issued by then-public affairs official Paul Alexander — came amid President Donald Trump’s broader push to reopen schools, with the president issuing demands on Twitter the prior day that ‘Democrats, OPEN THE SCHOOLS ( SAFELY),’ and holding a press conference that touted data on the relatively low risk of COVID-19 for children.” 

In Appalachia, residents largely observe the pandemic from afar: From Tim Sullivan of the Associated Press in Buchtel, Ohio: “The water, so cold that it nearly hurts, spills relentlessly into a concrete trough from three pipes driven into a hillside near the edge of town. People have been coming to the trough for at least a century, since horses were watered here and coal miners stopped by to wash off the grime. People still come — because they think the water is healthier, or makes better coffee, or because their utilities were turned off when they couldn’t pay the bills. Or maybe just because it’s what they’ve always done. For years, Tarah Nogrady has filled plastic jugs here and lugged them back to a town so small it rarely appears on maps. As she collects water for her four Pekinese dogs waiting in the car, she doesn’t wear a mask, like so many around here. Nogrady doubts that the coronavirus is a real threat — it’s ‘maybe a flu-type deal,’ she says. It’s a common view in the little towns that speckle the Appalachian foothills of southeast Ohio, where the pandemic has barely been felt. Coronavirus deaths and protests for racial justice — events that have defined 2020 nationwide — are mostly just images on TV from a distant America. For many here, it’s an increasingly foreign America that they explain with suspicion, anger and occasionally conspiracy theories.” 

COVID-19 in the White House should be America’s wake-up call: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President and CEO Richard Besser writes for Scientific American: “The news that the coronavirus has infected one of the most powerful people on the planet should serve as a sobering reminder that this pandemic knows no politics and respects no borders. It’s a reminder, too, that the U.S. government, at the federal, state and local level, needs to provide support through the duration of this pandemic so that every American has what’s needed in the event that they, too, are struck by this virus.” 

Now the president and frontline workers have something in common: Jeneen Interlandi of the New York Times Editorial Board writes that “it is tempting” to see President Trump’s coronavirus infection “as proof of the virus’s indifference: a foe so powerful it attacks presidents and paupers alike. But the numbers behind the ever-rising case counts and death tolls tell a very different story. Black and Latino Americans are roughly two to three times more likely than their white counterparts to contract the coronavirus, roughly four times more likely to be hospitalized by it, and nearly three times as likely to die from it. Latino children who contract the virus are eight times more likely to be hospitalized than white children, and Black children five times more likely. And of the 121 children who died from the virus through July, nearly 80% were children of color — 45% Latino and 29% Black, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Doctors and scientists who track case counts and death tolls are uniformly horrified by this disparity, and many worry that the true gap is probably even greater than the available data indicates. ‘We are looking at a historic decimation of the Hispanic communities in the United States,’ says Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease doctor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. ‘Not only are they dying at much higher rates, but they are also dying younger, which means we are losing working-aged adults and parents of school-aged children.’”

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