Last week, roughly 3 million Americans lost their jobs. Until today, the all-time record for weekly unemployment claims in the U.S. had been 700,000. Now it is 3.3 million (in seasonally adjusted terms). That record is likely to last exactly seven days, as economists widely believe that more Americans were laid off this week than last.
Meanwhile, confirmed coronavirus deaths in the U.S. just crossed 1,000. In some cities, hospitals are already running out of beds for the severely ill and morgue space for each day’s dead. Some have taken to storing the deceased in refrigerated trucks. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are still growing exponentially, while much of the country is failing to observe the CDC’s recommendations for containing the virus’s spread. If current trends continue, the United States may soon be the epicenter of both a global pandemic and economic depression.
And the Senate has decided that now would be a good time to take a monthlong vacation.
On Wednesday night, the upper chamber passed a $2 trillion economic rescue package (weeks after one became urgently needed). To keep America’s drowning small-business sector afloat, the law tasks the Small Business Administration with distributing $367 billion in subsidized loans in a manner that ensures all eligible enterprises will remain solvent — a task that the SBA is ill-equipped to execute and which is quite likely impossible regardless. To keep ordinary Americans fed and housed while the economy is in hibernation, the Senate did pass a robust expansion of unemployment insurance. But unemployment benefits aren’t going to do much for workers who were between jobs or recent college graduates trying to break into the labor market in historically adverse conditions. And all the Senate did for those Americans was approve a single $1,200 check — that won’t arrive in their bank accounts for weeks if not months. The legislation provided states with some federal aid, but not nearly enough to prevent state governments from being forced to actively deepen the recession by laying off public workers and paring back spending. Beyond these substantive shortcomings, the nearly 900-page legislation was subject to frantic last-minute revisions, making it all but certain that the bill will require technical corrections.
And the Senate has decided that now would be a good time to adjourn until April 20.
The (disproportionately elderly) legislative body’s desire to isolate themselves in their homes is understandable — especially when one considers that some in their ranks subscribe to a conception of individual liberty so sociopathic, they feel entitled to swim in public pools while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test. But teleconferencing exists. The least these people could have done was formally approve remote voting before skipping town.
All this said, the Senate did manage to ensure that one struggling American constituency will receive the benefit of uninterrupted aid and real-time policy adjustments. Before heading home, the upper chamber empowered the Federal Reserve to make roughly $4 trillion worth of subsidized loans to prop up U.S. corporations (and their wealthy shareholders).
And the central bank will not be taking a vacation.