In spite of falling overall unemployment rates, millions now stand on the precipice of long-term unemployment, the New York Times reports. The Department of Labor announced Friday that 2.4 million people have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer, the threshold it uses to determine long-term unemployment, while an additional five million people are approaching that status over the next two months. Moreover, permanent job losses are rising sharply even as temporary layoffs are decreasing. Many of these permanent job losses are driven by high-interaction employers like restaurants, theaters, casinos, and cruises. Disney announced that it will lay off 28,000 workers, while airlines will also cut tens of thousands of jobs following the expiration of a federal moratorium on layoffs. A total of 3.8 million people lost their jobs permanently in September, nearly twice as many as in April. The situation has already prompted comparisons to the “jobless recovery” of the decade following the Great Recession.
Many workers are also simply leaving the labor force, and these are overwhelmingly women, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center discussed by CNBC. In September 865,000 women, compared to 216,000 men, dropped out of the work force, meaning they are no longer working or looking for work. Lack of affordable child care is one important explanation both for the number of workers leaving the work force and for the high proportion of those workers who are women. Another factor is that the sectors that have lost the most jobs are disproportionately comprised of women workers—for example, women are about 60 percent of public sector workers. Black and Latina women continue to face higher unemployment rates than white women or men.
Repeal of Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law reduced wages for construction workers without any corresponding overall savings on projects, according to a study by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute summarized by Wisconsin Public Radio. Prevailing wage laws set minimum pay requirements for workers on public construction projects. Republican Governor Scott Walker and Republican state lawmakers repealed Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law in 2015. According to the study, an approximately 6 percent decrease in average annual income for construction workers can be attributed to this repeal. Construction workers also became less likely to have employer-provided health care coverage. Meanwhile, construction industry CEOs in Wisconsin saw an average 54 percent increase in inflation-adjusted total income following repeal of the prevailing wage law. The study found no statistically significant impact of the repeal on overall construction project costs, and the repeal may have also contributed to a growing share of projects handled by out-of-state contractors, a proportion that increased from 9 to 13 percent during the timeframe of the study.
Across Lake Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s response to the COVID-19 crisis had a setback Friday when a divided Michigan Supreme Court ruled she did not have the authority to issue emergency orders after April 30, according to the Detroit Free Press. The 4-3 ruling along partisan lines held that Governor Whitmer’s statutory authorization to declare a state of emergency expired after 28 days absent any legislative extension. The ruling also held that a separate statute on which Governor Whitmer had relied for authority to issue the orders, the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945, was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to the executive. A federal court in Michigan had certified these two questions to the Michigan Supreme Court for purposes of a lawsuit by medical providers challenging an order barring nonessential medical procedures. But the ruling is likely to affect dozens of executive orders designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in a wide variety of settings. Polls have shown support for Governor Whitmer’s orders, but Michigan’s Republican legislature declined to extend her emergency powers past the initial 28-day period in April.
A report by ProPublica dives into the work arrangements of customer service representatives classified as independent contractors through a company called Arise, which provides staffing for well-known clients including Disney, Comcast, and Airbnb. Officially, Arise workers are independent contractors who pay Arise for training, equipment, and the use of Arise’s online platform. Workers are paid for time talking, not waiting, often earning far below minimum wage. Arise markets itself to its corporate clients as a way to improve “utilization” of customer service agents, while selling prospective agents on the flexibility of working from home. But agents’ calls are tightly managed by dozens of rules concerning call length and the type of customer assistance that can be offered. Arise’s training materials also emphasize the importance of letting customers believe that the Arise agent works for the client company. About 64% of Arise agents are people of color, while 89% are women. Arise’s business model has been found to violate federal minimum wage law in individual arbitrations, but the company has so far avoided any class-action suits largely because of the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis.