Attention Congress: Why Federal Economic Benefits Are Needed Now More Than Ever |Opinion

Atlanta protests
A police car burns during protests in Atlanta, Georgia on May 29, 2020. Elijah Nouvelage/Stringer

Welcome back to On The Street. A terrible week. Protests over the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis broke out all over the country. Meanwhile, President Trump declared war on Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, threatened Minneapolis demonstrators and continued to hammer China. And still the stock market persisted: The S&P 500: up 3.2 percent for the week. Here's what I've got:

Moocher Nation? Given the unrest in the country—and the high number of unemployed—you'd think extending jobless benefits would be a no-brainer for Congress. But you would be wrong. While there are signs of compromise, the rumpus over enhanced unemployment assistance continues. As you may know, the extra $600 a week benefit—on top of state unemployment payouts— ends July 31. Democrats in Congress want to extend and the Republicans don't. In the latter camp are the usual suspects like Stephen Moore—yup the guy even Republicans wouldn't let on the Fed. He complained, the Washington Post said, that folks like waiters and Walmart greeters won't come back to work because life is so good on the extra-sweet dole. Goldman Sachs—surprise!— also seemed to join the party. Its chief economist said such government largesse would put a damper on a potential recovery. Is there any data showing that folks aren't going back to work when asked? I haven't seen any. (If you have, send it my way.) And let's say, for argument's sake, that the unemployed moochers are actually living high off the hog? You know, paying rent and buying groceries with their windfall. They're still putting money back into the economy. And besides, if their previous employer wants them back, they can just say so. If the former workers refuse, they would have to give up benefits unless, say, they have childcare problems at home related to COVID-19. There does seem to be a little progress towards a solution, though. According to the Post, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is proposing a $450 a week bonus for people who go back to work. And the assumption is that enhanced benefits of some amount will also be a part of any such bill. (Because, if you haven't noticed, there are still a lot of unemployed people.) Good thing, because Congress actually came up with an effective worker protection program. Why kill it off now amid all the turmoil?

Pass/Fail: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently came out against the concept of "immunity passports," which would allow workers who test positive for COVID-19 antibodies to hang in the office before, say, people who didn't. The ACLU, among others things, objected to folks being divided "into two classes: the immune and the non-immune" with the latter group possibly being excluded from employment. (Read the full article here.) For one thing, the antibody tests just aren't accurate enough. For another thing, such requirements would really hurt low income folks who work in service industries. They might feel, for example, pressured to expose themselves to COVID-19 to eventually pass muster. The collection of private data is also a big problem. Can you trust your employer with it? Not me. I once sat in horror when a company executive wondered out loud why there were so many people on Prozac in our organization. (Not Newsweek!) What else was she learning about us? I was afraid to ask.


Wall Street during coronavirus
Wall Street itself has had that closed-for-business look during the pandemic. But since late March, the stock markets have gone wild. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

We Told You So, I Think: Stocks are now more than 30% higher than March lows. Things looked pretty grim during the slide, for sure. But the best advice was stay the course and that was delivered early on by one Newsweeker—and a former Newsweeker. First up: If you haven't read it, have a look at Diane Harris' How to Stay Sane in a Crazy Market, which we published in early March. Among a lot of things, Harris warned against getting into the market-timing game, largely because you—and me—aren't smart enough to pull it off. (I think she should write a book—don't you?) And, or course, this sage advice from personal finance author and genuine legend Jane Bryant Quinn: "Crashes always catch you in the gut and tend to overwhelm your rational brain," she told me for a recent column. "Rationalists are buying stocks, not selling them."

Loose Change: More on this in a future column, but President Trump is clearly setting up Silicon Valley, along with China, as a punching bag in his re-election campaign. Last week was the executive order aimed at companies such as Twitter, Google, and Facebook that would, or so the administration says, remove a rule that shields the socials from liability if someone posts something defamatory. Say, someone who implies that shooting looters in Minneapolis is a good idea. The administration has also, of course, tangled with Amazon CEO—and Washington Post owner—Jeff Bezos. Recently, the U.S. Justice Department has, per Bloomberg, hired outside lawyers to help in an anti-trust investigation of Google and Facebook. You see where this is going...This week's music: We're going to do a little "then and now" thing. Then: Mike Heron with John Cale on Feast of Stephen in 1972's Smiling Men With Bad Reputations. Heron is one of England's great folkies. I still have the vinyl—should I actually admit that?—which features classic rock greats like Pete Townshend, Keith Moon and Jimmy Page. And, thanks to Newsweek's Mr. Music, David Chiu, for the "now" selection. The band, Khruangbin, is a NPR, and Mr. Music, favorite so it must be good. Listen/watch here...Have a great, and safe, week.