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After the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of newly employed Americans had risen by only 266,000 in April rather than the 1 million that had been forecast, many were quick to point to expanded unemployment benefits as the culprit. As part of its response to the pandemic, the federal government has been adding a $300 weekly supplement to state payments to the jobless and funding a huge expansion of individuals eligible for unemployment benefits.
The generosity, critics say, is encouraging otherwise employable people to stay at home rather than work. Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blame the Biden administration’s continuation of expanded unemployment benefits of “paying people not to work.”
‘Incentive’ or ‘coercion’?
While the evidence is far from clear that the chamber’s claim is correct, politicians at the state and national level were not far behind. Republicans in Congress, many using the exact language of the chamber, excoriated the administration and demanded that the policy, scheduled to end in September, be eliminated immediately. Republican governors in Montana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and South Carolina announced that they would no longer accept the federal supplement payments. Their decisions were cheered by some, but condemned by others.
“We are still in a pandemic,” said Kate Bahn, director of labor market policy for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. “The idea of purposely taking away benefits from people to ‘incentivize’ a return to work is actually coercing people to go back to work when it’s unsafe to do so, when caregiving may be really uncertain, and when family members might still be getting sick.”
Weak labor supply
Since the jobs report last week, other data have surfaced that only seemed to reinforce the argument that people were choosing not to reenter the labor force. The BLS on Tuesday released its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS) report, which revealed that at the end of March there had been 8.1 million open jobs in the country, the highest number since the agency began tracking the figure in 2000. That made the low number of new hires in April seem even more shocking.
In a statement to the press Tuesday, National Federation of Independent Businesses chief economist Bill Dunkelberg said, “Small-business owners are seeing a growth in sales but are stunted by not having enough workers. Finding qualified employees remains the biggest challenge for small businesses and is slowing economic growth. Owners are raising compensation, offering bonuses and benefits to attract the right employees.”
Typical unemployment benefits
Unemployment benefits in the United States vary significantly from person to person, as they are tied to the wages an individual was earning prior to losing a job. In normal times, unemployment insurance is designed to replace about half of a person’s income for up to 26 weeks or about six months.
This makes the U.S. an outlier among developed countries. It is among the least generous in initial benefits and is the only nation in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that routinely cuts off benefits after six months.
Prior to the pandemic, Americans eligible for unemployment payments received an average of $387 per week through state-administered programs, according to data collected by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, though that varied from as little as $215 in Mississippi to as much as $550 in Massachusetts.
Adding the $300 federal supplement to the average unemployment payment translates into an average payment of $687 per week, or the equivalent pay for 40 hours of work at an hourly wage of $17.17. In a country where the federal minimum wage is only $7.25 per hour, that inevitably means that some people receiving unemployment insurance payments are taking in more from the federal government than they would if they returned to low-wage jobs.
In addition to the supplement, the government’s pandemic response programs expanded the number of Americans eligible for unemployment and extended the time limit to 39 weeks. While only about 3.7 million Americans would be eligible for unemployment benefits under the pre-pandemic program, there were more than 16 million receiving some sort of unemployment assistance as of April 17.
Questions about the data
Some economists, while agreeing that there are certainly some workers for whom the more generous unemployment benefits are the deciding factor in not returning to work, say they simply cannot, by themselves, account for the difficulty employers report in hiring. “I do think it’s possible that some workers are making the decision to return to work because of the unemployment benefits that they’re receiving. I wouldn’t want to overstate the importance of that number,” Stephanie Aaronson, vice president, and director of the Economic Studies program at the Brookings Institution said in a podcast interview last week.
Dean Baker, the founder of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, wrote in a blog post Tuesday that it is “not plausible” that the higher-than-usual unemployment benefit is what is making it difficult for employers to find workers. He cited a trio of studies from earlier in the pandemic, when the federal supplement was $600, which found only a minimal effect on employment — in one case, between 0.2% and 0.4%.
“It is reasonable to assume that the effect of supplements that are half as large would be considerably smaller,” Baker said. However, as certain as some economists are that the extra benefits are having little impact on individuals’ willingness to look for work, others are just as sure that the effect is beyond debate.
“The excessively generous unemployment benefits that are in place until September will keep workers on the sidelines, restricting employment gains and keeping wages artificially high,” Michael R. Strain, director of economic policy studies, at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a May 7 article in Bloomberg Opinion. (VOA/JC)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday launched the Pradhan Mantri Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana (PMASBY) from his parliamentary constituency of Varanasi which will be one of the largest pan-India schemes to strengthen healthcare infrastructure.
The Prime Minister said that the scheme, estimated to cost Rs 64,000 crore, would make the health infrastructure self-reliant.
"Aarogya concept is needed in everyone's life. We should invest the maximum in physical and mental wellness but, sadly this was not done in the post-Independence period. Due attention was not paid and those who were in power, kept the healthcare system deprived and lacking," he said.
Modi said that the middle-class groups and the poor were the worst sufferers in the absence of adequate facilities at the grassroots level.
"This mission will solve these problems. We are focusing on hill states like Uttarakhand and Himanchal Pradesh and also the northeast. We will address the gaps," he said.
The Prime Minister said that special attention would be laid on early detection and 125 districts will have referral facilities.
Secondly, testing would also be stepped up and 730 districts will get integrated testing laboratories.
He said that research centres will also be upgraded and four new National Institute of Virology units would be set up so that the country can be ready to deal with new viral issues and the pandemic.
He said that as the health infrastructure developed, it would generate new employment opportunities too.
The Prime Minister also announced new development projects worth Rs 5,200 crore for Varanasi.
He said that in the past seven years, Kashi had undergone a change with the building of roads, ghats, bridges, parking lots, and cleaning of the Ganga and Varuna rivers.
"This could have been done earlier but the previous governments lacked political will," he said. (IANS/JB)
Keywords: India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Pradhan Mantri Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana (PMASBY), Varanasi
The Supreme Court on Monday sought response from the Centre, within three days, on a plea challenging a notification for change in land use, which would deprive residents of Delhi a vast chunk of green space in the Central Vista area.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted before a bench headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar that he will seek instructions from the government. He added since the Prime Minister and Vice President's house is coming up there, therefore it would not be possible to have a recreational area in the vicinity.
After hearing arguments, the bench, also comprising Justice C.T. Ravikumar, posted the matter for further hearing on Friday.
The plea, filed by social activist Rajeev Suri, who had earlier challenged the project earlier citing an illegal change in land use and absence of environmental clearance, through advocate Shikhil Suri, contended that the Centre did, mala fide, issue a notification dated October 28, 2020, notifying the change in land use, which will deprive residents of Delhi a vast chunk of highly treasured open and green space in Central Vista area available for social and recreational activity.
The plea argued that this notification stands against Article 21 (Right to Life) in the right to the enjoyment of wholesome life. "Since the subject plot no 1 takes over spaces of a children's recreational park and bus terminal for public transport, heightened judicial scrutiny is required to cut through the well-disguised illegalities and infirmities to reach the violations of statutory laws," said the plea.
The plea sought the top court to issue directions to call records and quash the notification concerned issued by the Centre, through the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and, also to prevent loss equities by staying activities such demolition of buildings, cutting of trees, excavation of land and other actions which may be irreversible.
The Central Vista redevelopment project, which covers a three-km stretch from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate in Lutyens' Delhi, at the cost of Rs 20,000 crore, where several government buildings -- including the Parliament House and ministry offices, will be rebuilt.
In January, this year, the Supreme Court had cleared the decks for the Central Vista project by upholding the environmental clearance and the notification for change in land use. (IANS/JB)
Keywords: India, Government, Central Vista, Supreme court of India.
Health Care Without Harm, the official Race to Zero healthcare partner, on Monday announced that over 50 healthcare institutions collectively representing more than 11,500 healthcare facilities in 21 countries including India's Kerala, are part of the UN-backed Race to Zero campaign.
In joining the Race to Zero, these organizations commit to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. They become part of the largest ever alliance outside of national governments committed to delivering a zero-carbon world in line with the Paris Agreement.
The healthcare organizations in Race to Zero include institutions ranging from individual, public and private hospitals and health systems to entire provincial or state government health departments. In recent weeks several large health systems have signed on to this vital commitment.
These systems include the Directorate of Health Services in Kerala, the international private healthcare and insurance system, Bupa, and CommonSpirit Health in the US.
They demonstrate global leadership in the healthcare sector by committing to net zero emissions and taking immediate climate action.
"It's exciting to see the momentum of healthcare organizations worldwide join the Race to Zero. All health organizations, large and small, can accelerate the transition to a healthier, sustainable, and more equitable world," said UN High-Level Climate Champion Gonzalo Muoz.
"At a time when Kerala is facing unprecedented climate events, the state Health Department has shown its commitment to climate resilience and pledged to achieve net-zero healthcare by signing up to the Race to Zero program. This initiative brings health facilities of the state on track to being low carbon and climate-resilient," said Kerala Minister of Health and Family Welfare Veena George.
"As a global healthcare company, we are very conscious that people's health depends on a healthy planet and we believe we can continue to deliver high-quality healthcare while mitigating our impact on the environment. We can't do this alone, that's why we are so incredibly proud to join the Race to Zero campaign with Health Care Without Harm, setting our ambition to become a net-zero business by 2040 and joining leading healthcare companies that are also committed to driving change for a healthy people and healthy planet," said Nigel Sullivan, Chief Sustainability and People Officer, Bupa.
In the lead-up to COP26, Race to Zero healthcare leadership is part of a diverse and growing global health sector movement for climate action.
National government ministries are making high-level commitments to healthcare decarbonization and resilience, while more than 45 million health professionals have called for aggressive action to protect people's health from climate change.
Health sector decarbonization is critical to reducing global emissions.
Health Care Without Harm's 2019 report shows the sector's climate footprint is equivalent to 4.4 per cent of global net emissions, with the majority originating from fossil fuels used across facility operations, the supply chain, and the broader economy.
To guide the sector's decarbonization, Health Care Without Harm's Global Road Map demonstrates how implementing seven high-impact actions can reduce global emissions by 44 gigatons over 36 years, equivalent to keeping more than 2.7 billion barrels of oil in the ground each year, and potentially saving more than five million lives by the end of the century. (IANS/JB)
Keywords: United Nations, Health, Kerala Population, Global emissions, a global healthcare company