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The deeply unequal economic consequences of the pandemic

The last jobs report before Election Day showed the smallest monthly gain since May, raising concerns about a slowing and deeply uneven economic recovery. About half the initial 22 million jobs lost to the pandemic have been added back, but millions of Americans are struggling -- and running out of federal aid. We hear from some of them, and Amna Nawaz talks to The Washington Post’s Heather Long.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The news of President Trump's coronavirus-positive test was quickly followed by a jobs report that was weaker than expected, the last before Election Day.

    The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 7.9 percent in September, and the economy added 661,000 jobs, the smallest monthly gain since May, leading to concerns about a slowing and deeply uneven recovery.

    So far, the economy has added back about half of the 22 million jobs that were lost after the pandemic first hit. But millions of people are struggling mightily, and running out of federal assistance in some cases.

    Amna Nawaz has more on all of that.

    But let's begin with some voices from around the country.

  • Ben Richardson:

    My name is Ben. I'm from Indiana, and I was a senior manufacturing engineer.

  • Latonya Darrisaw:

    Latonya Darrisaw, New York, and I was a copywriter at a tech and entertainment company.

  • Heather Williams:

    My name is Heather Williams. Prior to the pandemic, I was an adjunct philosophy instructor and graduate assistant.

  • Shelia Richardson:

    My name is Sheila Richardson, and I was a learning specialist. I lost my job because the company said that they did away with the position.

    It decreased my finances about 30 percent. So, it's a big gap, a major gap.

  • Latonya Darrisaw:

    The assumption was that we all would be brought back, yes, once we got ahead of COVID. But, unfortunately, that didn't happen. My weekly amount that I get from unemployment now pretty much just covers my rent.

  • Ben Richardson:

    We had a nice savings, with a 401(k), IRA, savings accounts, whatever. I thought we were in pretty decent Middle America shape. But now they're all just — and you can just see it, month by month, just bum, bum, bum, just going down.

  • Shelia Richardson:

    I have had to cut back on my prescriptions. I have had to reduce groceries or any sort of pleasures in groceries, like ice cream, unless it's on sale.

    Maybe I will take all of my medicine today and some of my medicine tomorrow.

  • Heather Williams:

    Do I keep eating ramen, even though I'm a heart patient, and I know this is bad for me, but it's all I can afford? Do I pay my electric bill, or do I pay my rent? Those are the decisions that we have had to be making.

  • Latonya Darrisaw:

    I didn't plan for this. So, like, I don't know what the next steps are for me. And, then again, just when the bills are piling up and you have rent due at the 1st of the month, it's — yes, it's difficult.

  • Ben Richardson:

    I had a healthy salary when I was laid off. A lot of people would prefer to start fresh with, like, a recent college graduate, someone with maybe a year to three years' experience. So that's another — that's a kind of hit against me, I guess.

  • Heather Williams:

    I'm a disabled person who has worked two jobs just to be able to make ends meet. And my partner works 60 hours a week. And that is not enough to support us. There has been nothing that — I applied a month ago for benefits, and I have received nothing.

  • Latonya Darrisaw:

    I graduated into the recession in 2008, so this feels exactly like that.

    And, you know, unfortunately, during that time, it took me three years to find a job, and that's with a degree, with experience. I have enough savings to carry me through the end of the year. But, if I don't see that happening, then I will definitely probably have to move back home.

  • Ben Richardson:

    It's hard to even think about the long-term, when you're so focused on the right here right now. We're focused on this week. Do we have groceries this week? Unemployment benefits for me run out in November. That's literally in a month.

  • Shelia Richardson:

    It caused me to have depression, to feel very sad, very weighted down. And the outlook is, well, where do you go from here?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For a closer look at the latest numbers, and to get a sense of who is being hit hardest by the recession, I'm joined by Heather Long of The Washington Post.

    Heather, welcome back to the "NewsHour" and thanks for being with us.

    We know recessions usually hit the most vulnerable among us the hardest. When you look back over the last seven months, big picture, what does your analysis show about who is being hit hardest right now?

  • Heather Long:

    So, we're basically half recovered, and that's good to see some jobs coming back.

    But what's really different about this crisis is, of course, the coronavirus, and it has so deeply impacted low-wage workers. We can all see it as we drive around our communities, restaurants still operating at half-capacity, a lot of stores still closed, bars still closed.

    And what we found as we really dug into the numbers is how deeply unequal this is. Low-wage workers are basically in a depression-like state. They have been hit eight times harder than high-wage workers.

    Basically, the recession is over for people at the top, while the working class is still in a depression.

    And if you look at it by race, for instance, Black men and women, their jobs have come back about 34 percent, compared to whites, who are 60 back, or Americans with college degrees, who are 55 percent back, vs. those who don't have college degrees, who are more likely to be in those service jobs, are only about 40 percent back. So it's deep disparities right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Heather, your analysis found a massive discrepancy when you look at age groups as well.

    Take a look at this graphic here. This shows all the different employment by age group. The top lines are Americans age 25 and older, but that bottom line there is young Americans. That's Americans between the ages of 20 and 24. How hard were they hit?

  • Heather Long:

    Extremely hard. You can see it in the graph.

    Those people who are trying to get those jobs often in restaurants and hotels, just get their toehold into the labor market, and those jobs were just completely blown away in the spring and have been slow to come back.

    The other group that's really been a big discrepancy is moms vs. dads. With schools and day cares closed and all these virtual classes, the burden is falling on mothers. Mothers of school-age children are only about 45 percent of jobs recovered, vs. dads of kids in school are 70 percent recovered. Massive difference there.

    And, in September, we saw a huge dropout. Over 800,000 women just quit their jobs entirely and left the labor force, and that's a very alarming sign.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Heather, in just a few seconds we have left, we cannot stress enough just how much the disparity of this recession is apparent, when you look across income levels, especially compared to recessions of past years.

    When you look at recessions of 1990, 2001 and 2008, this current recession has a massive disparity. The top line you see on the graph there, the highest-earning quarter of Americans, the bottom line there, the lowest-earning Americans.

    What does recovery look like for them?

  • Heather Long:

    I'm extremely worried about it, particularly if Congress and the White House do not pass more aid soon. You saw — you just heard those vignettes, I hear it, too.

    People are eating ramen noodles. They're having to decide between buying prescription drugs or paying rent.

    And I think of Natasha Smith, a woman I talked to in Louisiana who lost her job at a casino. I said: "What are you eating for dinner tonight?"

    And she opened her refrigerator. And she said: "I have only got two things here, one packet of wings and one packet of thighs, and we don't have anything else."

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Devastating stories from across America.

    That is Heather Long of The Washington Post joining us tonight.

    Thank you.

  • Heather Long:

    Thank you.

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