There is an “inequality autopilot” in the United States – how can Treasury Biden help change the trajectory? | U.S. income inequality

Teresa Marez has never heard of Janet Yellen, who is likely to be the next U.S. Treasury Secretary. But he and millions of other Americans live a lot with the decisions Yellen will make if and when they confirm it next year.

The coronavirus upset Marez’s life. His savings are almost exhausted and he is worried about his unemployment benefits running out next week. “It’s so hard. It’s just such a mess,” said the mother of two in San Antonio, Texas. “All we need is Congress to make a decision,” Marez said. “As long as they’re at rest, we’re at rest.”

Marez, 45, is one of the millions of Americans who are still suffering from the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus epidemic and whose fate will be a priority for incoming President Joe Biden and his Treasury Secretary.

The situation is terrible. About 20 million Americans are unemployed. For many, hunger has become a major issue. Government figures show that in the week before Thanksgiving, America’s biggest holiday, 5.6 million households struggled to put enough food on the table. Huge, spooky lines have emerged at food banks across the country, and years of neglect and underfunding of schemes for those in need have worsened their situation.

Last week, Marez spent three and a half hours waiting to talk to someone at a Texas unemployment office and find out if she gets a new form of unemployment when her existing fund expires. Maybe the answer was optional. “I wait three and a half hours in the middle of the morning, just to get that answer,” the woman said.

According to the Century Foundation, 12 million Americans will be separated from their unemployment benefits on December 26th. There will be a disproportionate number of women and Latinos like Marez, or black and young groups hardest hit by the economic crisis.

The food is prepared and placed on it.  an outdoor table that people can receive in New York City, New York, on October 22nd.
The food is prepared and placed on it. an outdoor table that people can receive in New York City, New York, on October 22nd. Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Some parts of the U.S. economy are showing amazing resilience in the teeth of the health crisis than those that can transition to work from home. Stock markets are at record highs. And the very rich performed very, very well. U.S. billionaires have added $ 1 tonne to their wealth because of the epidemic, according to a report by the Institute for Political Studies (IPS).

But only one in four U.S. workers has a job that allows them to work from home. And as the rate of coronaviruses increases and the likelihood of shutdowns increases, those who have to leave their homes to work continue to suffer. Last week alone, some 778,000 people reported unemployment, up 30,000 from the previous week and approaching three times the weekly average before the pandemic.

The unemployment rate reached an alarming 14.7% in April and has fallen sharply since then. But women and people of color continue to experience sharply higher unemployment and the pace of recovery has slowed.

Many economists are now talking about a “K-shaped boom,” with the wealthy bouncing back on K’s upward-pointing pipe, while the less fortunate continue to slip into poverty on the downward-pointing leg. “The economy is currently on an inequality autopilot,” said Chuck Collins, director of IPS, who called the situation “grotesque”. “This is the time when we need government to act.”

Yellen, formerly president of the Federal Reserve, was an impressive choice for treasury work. With decades of experience in science and policy, she was the first female Fed president of the United States and probably the country’s first female treasury secretary.

He is cautious and collegiate, not the progressive man many Democrats hoped for, but he has consistently recognized the persistence of inequalities in the United States, even if he has done little to solve them so far.

He told the Fed that the African American unemployment rate in particular was too high, but argued that the central bank was not fit to deal with the problem. As Treasury Secretary, the President’s Chief Adviser will have greater influence in domestic and global economic and tax policy.

Recently, Reuters told the news agency: “In fact, there is a new kind of realization that there is a society where capitalism is starting to amaze and needs to be adjusted to make sure that what we do is sustainable and the benefits of its growth are widely shared in a way , not yet. “

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a firefighter fighting Wall Street excesses who was once considered a potential treasury chief under Biden, was overwhelmingly praised after word of Yellen’s appointment. Warren called Yellent an “outstanding choice,” and said he was “smart, tough, and principled,” and someone who “stood up against Wall Street banks”.

As Treasury Secretary, he will have more theoretical power than he does theoretically than the Fed, by defining tax policy, regulating banks, and overseeing priorities while struggling with the nation’s huge debt repayments. The Treasury Secretary employs 87,000 people and has a budget of $ 20 billion. Yellen will be fifth in the presidency and his signature will appear in the nation’s currency.

But the 2020 election gave Biden a split congress, and Yellen must win Republican votes for all major initiatives. To date, the signs are not good.

In March, Congress passed an emergency law, a $ 2-ton care law that pumped money into businesses, approved a $ 1,200 million incentive check for millions of Americans, and temporarily raised weekly unemployment contributions by $ 600. Since then, negotiations on the new stimulus have stalled and stalled again. Extra payments stopped, cash was spent. Republicans who have gladly accumulated record debts under Trump are now talking about the need for “austerity”.

“It is a borderline crime that nothing has been done,” said William Rodgers, a former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor and an informal adviser to the Biden transition team. “They cut through the Supreme Court candidate, but did nothing to help American families.”

Rodgers hopes Biden has vast experience in Washington and will be changed by Yellen’s expertise and gravity. “The optics and the evidence are such that they will be forced to let go,” he says. – Look at those car lines [for food banks]. These are not just old clashed cars, it is widespread.

Hundreds of cars are waiting in line at a food bank in Austin, Texas on Nov. 23.
Hundreds of cars are waiting in line at a food bank in Austin, Texas on Nov. 23. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar / REX / Shutterstock

Collins also believes that the majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, have woken up to inequality. Florida, which also voted for Trump this year, also agreed to raise the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour. “There’s a lot of pressure for change,” he said.

But for those who are at the sharp end of the Covid 19 recession, time is running out.

Prior to the pandemic, Kat Barron resigned as a Florida teacher to move to Colorado to be closer to her daughter. He was incapable of unemployment because he voluntarily left his job and lives with his daughter and friend while looking for work. “I would be homeless if I wasn’t allowed to live here for free,” Barron said.

He originally planned to work as a massage therapist in Colorado, but withheld that because he belongs to a high-risk group because of Covid-19. The $ 2,000 savings he made in Colorado is drying up, and despite the health risks he intends to consider in his original work plan, he can continue to pay for his car and phone.

Barron has applied for more than 100 jobs that would allow him to telecommute, but he says people are reluctant to hire a 57-year-old woman like him.

“I think my only option is to accept a massage job,” Barron said. “I feel like I’m risking my life to pay my bills, but what am I going to do?

“Having money is almost like a protective cloak, and if you don’t, it’s very scary,” Barron said.