Labor, Poverty, and Power

Source: Cambridge Now Blog, September 3, 2020

Countries around the world are struggling with the economic repercussions of the pandemic, and the United States in particular has recorded levels of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. While the CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in March, provided $600/week in supplemental income to some workers, this benefit lapsed at the end of July and no replacement program has been enacted, leaving millions in a state of housing and food insecurity. At the same time, states have made cuts or are considering steep cuts to Medicaid and other social safety programs precisely as need surges, with millions of Americans losing health insurance along with their jobs. A disproportionate number of those who are at risk are Black Americans and people of color who worked—or still work, in some cases, but at minimum wage—in industries without organized labor, which has also been in decline over the past several decades in the United States. Indeed, the precarious position of low-wage workers and the unemployed stands in contrast to legislation designed to protect businesses and employers—for example, a $25 billion bailout to the airline industry, or the GOP Liability Shield Bill, which would give employers sweeping immunity against Covid-19 related lawsuits brought by employees.

We spoke to several Cambridge University Press authors and editors about the legal, political, and historical factors that explain these converging crises and make low-income and unemployed Americans especially vulnerable. We also asked about connections between calls to end anti-Black racism and to reinvigorate organized labor, and, more generally, how anti-labor and anti-poor measures have exacerbated the systemic effects of racism.