May 18, 2020
More than 36 million jobs have been cut since February, according to the U.S. government. By some measures, the U.S. government admits that the unemployment rate hit over 20% in April. The only other time there were such widespread job cuts and such a growth in unemployment was during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The difference is that the loss of jobs during the Depression was more gradual, taking place over a period between 1929 to 1932, while this one is taking place over a matter of days and weeks.
Most of those who lost their jobs have nothing to fall back on because the jobs they lost paid so little. None other than the U.S. Federal Reserve has found that almost half of all households in this country have no savings.
At least half of those who lost their jobs couldn’t even get unemployment benefits. This is not an accident. For decades and decades, the nationwide system of unemployment insurance has been systematically eroded, underfunded and degraded, creating ever more barriers and breakdowns that make it ever more difficult for the unemployed to get coverage.
So, millions of families are without income and in a matter of weeks after the crisis hit, “food insecurity,” or, in plain words—hunger—skyrocketed to levels without modern precedent. Nearly 23% of households in the country reported they lacked money to get enough food. This is almost twice as high as it was during the 2007–2008 Great Recession. Nearly one-fifth of all mothers with young children say their children are not getting enough to eat, according to a survey by the Brookings Institution, a rate three times as high as in 2008 during the worst of the Great Recession.
Of course, in the midst of this catastrophe, the officials at the head of government and business tell the jobless to be patient. They claim most of the job losses are temporary and therefore, the jobs will come back once the economy opens up.
In reality, most of those temporary layoffs will turn into permanent layoffs. This was underlined in early May, when such major companies as GE, Boeing and United Airlines announced big job cuts. Mass layoffs were also announced by other companies in auto parts, airlines, aerospace manufacturers, the oil and gas industry, resorts, and even hospitals and health care providers. As for state and local governments and agencies, they also began to announce great big “deficits” that they say will lead to millions more job cuts.
Thus, almost a century after the Great Depression ravaged society, capitalism is creating a new and perhaps even worse crisis right before our eyes.