The US economy added another 1.8 million jobs in July, a sharp slowdown from June and a small step for an economy that’s still down 12.9 million jobs during the pandemic.
Head-butting in Washington
The US economy added another 1.8 million jobs in July, a sharp slowdown from June and a small step for an economy that’s still down 12.9 million jobs during the pandemic.
Kelyn Yanez used to clean homes during the day and wait tables at night in the Houston area before the coronavirus. But the mother of three lost both jobs in March because of the pandemic and now is facing eviction.
The Honduran immigrant got help from a local church to pay part of July’s rent but was still hundreds of dollars short and is now awaiting a three-day notice to vacate the apartment where she lives with her children. She has no idea how she will meet her August rent.
“Right now, I have nothing,” said Yanez, who briefly got her bar job back when the establishment reopened, but lost it again when she and her 4-year-old daughter contracted the virus in June and had to quarantine. The apartment owners “don’t care if you’re sick, if you’re not well. Nobody cares here. They told me that I had to have the money.”
Yanez, who lives in the U.S. illegally, is among some 23 million people nationwide at risk of being evicted, according to The Aspen Institute, as moratoriums enacted because of the coronavirus expire and courts reopen. Around 30 state moratoriums have expired since May, according to The Eviction Lab at Princeton University. On top of that, some tenants were already encountering illegal evictions even with the moratoriums.
Now, tenants are crowding courtrooms — or appearing virtually — to detail how the pandemic has upended their lives. Some are low-income families who have endured evictions before, but there are also plenty of wealthier families facing homelessness for the first time — and now being forced to navigate overcrowded and sometimes dangerous shelter systems amid the pandemic.
Experts predict the problem will only get worse in the coming weeks, with 30 million unemployed and uncertainty whether Congress will extend the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits that expired Friday. The federal eviction moratorium that protects more than 12 million renters living in federally subsidized apartments or units with federally backed mortgages expired July 25. If it’s not extended, landlords can initiate eviction proceedings in 30 days.
“It’s going to be a mess,” said Bill Faith, executive director of Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, referring to the Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, which found last week that more than 23% of Ohioans questioned said they weren’t able to make last month’s rent or mortgage payment or had little or no confidence they could pay next month’s.
Nationally, the figure was 26.5% among adults 18 years or older, with numbers in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Nevada, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, New York, Tennessee and Texas reaching 30% or higher. The margins of error in the survey vary by state.
“I’ve never seen this many people poised to lose their housing in a such a short period of time,” Faith said. “This is a huge disaster that is beginning to unfold.”
Housing advocates fear parts of the country could soon look like Milwaukee, which saw a 21% spike in eviction filings in June, to nearly 1,500 after the moratorium was lifted in May. It’s more than 24% across the state.
“We are sort of a harbinger of what is to come in other places,” said Colleen Foley, the executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee.
“We are getting calls to us from zip codes that we don’t typically serve, the part of the community that aren’t used to coming to us,” she added. “It’s a reflection of the massive job loss and a lot of people facing eviction who aren’t used to not paying their rent.”
In New Orleans, a legal aid organization saw its eviction-related caseload almost triple in the month since Louisiana’s moratorium ended in mid-June. Among those seeking help is Natasha Blunt, who could be evicted from her two-bedroom apartment where she lives with her two grandchildren.
Blunt, a 50-year-old African American, owes thousands of dollars in back rent after she lost her banquet porter job. She has yet to receive her stimulus check and has not been approved for unemployment benefits. Her family is getting by with food stamps and the charity of neighbors.
“I can’t believe this happened to me because I work hard,” said Blunt, whose eviction is at the mercy of the federal moratorium. “I don’t have any money coming in. I don’t have nothing. I don’t know what to do. … My heart is so heavy.”
Along with exacerbating a housing crisis in many cities that have long been plagued by a shortage of affordable options, widespread discrimination and a lack of resources for families in need, the spike in filings is raising concerns that housing courts could spread the coronavirus.
Many cities are still running hearings virtually. But others, like New Orleans, have opened their housing courts. Masks and temperature checks are required, but maintaining social distance has been a challenge.
“The first couple of weeks, we were in at least two courts where we felt really quite unsafe,” said Hannah Adams, a staff attorney with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services.
In Columbus, Ohio, Amanda Wood was among some 60 people on the docket Friday for eviction hearings at a convention center converted into a courtroom.
Wood, 23, lost her job at a claims management company in early April. The following day, the mother of a 6-month-old found out she was pregnant again. Now, she is two months behind rent and can’t figure out a way to make ends meet.
Wood managed to find a part-time job at FedEx, loading vans at night. But her pregnancy and inability to find stable childcare has left her with inconsistent paychecks.
“The whole process has been really difficult and scary,” said Wood, who is hoping to set up a payment scheduled after meeting with a lawyer Friday. “Not knowing if you’re going to have somewhere to live, when you’re pregnant and have a baby, is hard.”
Though the numbers of eviction filings in Ohio and elsewhere are rising and, in some places reaching several hundred a week, they are still below those in past years for July. Higher numbers are expected in August and September.
Experts credit the slower pace to the federal eviction moratorium as well as states and municipalities that used tens of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funding for rental assistance. It also helped that several states, including Massachusetts and Arizona, have extended their eviction moratorium into the fall.
Still, experts argue more needs to be done at the state and federal level for tenants and landlords.
Negotiations between Congress and the White House over further assistance are ongoing. A $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed in May by Democrats in the House would provide about $175 billion to pay rents and mortgages, but the $1 trillion counter from Senate Republicans only has several billion in rental assistance. Advocacy groups are looking for over $100 billion.
“An eviction moratorium without rental assistance is still a recipe for disaster,” said Graham Bowman, staff attorney with the Ohio Poverty Law Center. “We need the basic economics of the housing market to continue to work. The way you do that is you need broad-based rental assistance available to families who have lost employment during this crisis.”
“The scale of this problem is enormous so it needs a federal response.”
Hospital system earnings for the second quarter of the year painted a stark picture of how federal relief funding helped offset massive losses in patient volume sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But a full financial recovery may not happen until next year, some analysts warn.
Major hospital systems such as HCA Health and Universal Health Services posted profits in the second quarter despite plummeting volumes sparked by the cancellation of elective procedures and patients avoiding care due to fears of exposure to the virus. A key boost, however, came from a $175 billion fund passed by Congress and loans under the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payments Program.
“These companies survived the June quarter and exited the quarter with substantial amounts of liquidity,” said Jonathan Kanarek, vice president and senior credit officer for Moody’s Investors Services. “We think [liquidity] is probably the most critical factor for them as far as weathering the storm.”
Congress has approved $175 billion to help prop up providers, of which the Department of Health and Human Services has distributed more than $100 billion.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also gave out $100 billion in advance Medicare payments before suspending the program in late April. But the payments are loans that hospitals have to start repaying as soon as this month, as opposed to the congressional funding that does not have to get paid back.
Hospital system earnings illustrated how pivotal the relief funds were to combat massive holes in patient volumes.
Tenet Healthcare, which operates 65 hospitals across the country, reported Monday that it earned in the second quarter adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of $732 million. But of that $732 million, more than 70% of it was aid from the relief fund.
Tenet wasn’t the only for-profit system where relief funding was a large part of their adjusted EBITDA.
Community Health Systems, which operates 95 facilities, reported an adjusted EBITDA of $454 million in the second quarter. But most of that figure was due to the $448 million that it got from the relief funds.
The provider funding made up a smaller portion of HCA Healthcare’s earnings. The system of 184 hospitals reported that the funding made up 31% of its adjusted EBITDA.
Hospital system volumes greatly declined in April as facilities were forced to cancel elective procedures and patients were scared of going to the hospital.
For example, Tenet’s hospital admissions in April were 33% of what it had in the same month in 2019. But volumes started to recover as shelter-in-place orders expired and some states got a better handle on the pandemic.
Tenet saw admissions grow in June to 90% of what they were in June 2019.
But it remains unclear what hospital finances will look like for the rest of the year. Major systems like Tenet and HCA have scrapped their 2020 financial outlook because of the pandemic.
“We don’t think the shape of this recovery or trajectory will be linear in nature,” Kanarek said. “We think there will be a lot of starts and stops.”
Those starts and stops will depend on the extent of the spread of the virus in an area.
Some states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona have seen massive spikes in the virus in recent weeks, which has put renewed strain on systems. Texas’ governor canceled elective procedures in eight counties back in June, some of which included major cities such as Houston and Dallas.
“I am a little skeptical that we are going to be back to normal before we ultimately have a vaccine,” Kanarek said.
It is also murky on whether hospitals will continue to get more financial help from Congress.
The House passed the HEROES Act more than a month ago that gives providers another $100 billion, but it has stalled in the Senate.
Congress and the White House have been in extensive talks for more than a week on a new relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a package last week that had $25 billion in relief funding and lawsuit liability protections for providers.
But even without the additional funding, for-profit hospitals have made some moves to prepare for more shutdowns such as accessing capital markets to add additional lawyers of bank liquidity, Kanarek said.
“We can only hope 2021 will look like a more normal year for hospitals, perhaps more like 2019, but there is still a lot of uncertainty out there,” he said.
Another 656,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the benefits offered to gig and self-employed workers.
The number of people continuing traditional unemployment claims, from the week ending July 25, was 16.1 million, down about 844,000 from the week prior. (The statistic lags by a week.) When including the PUA, more than 32.1 million Americans are currently receiving some form of unemployment benefits.
“It is promising that the initial unemployment numbers have ticked down,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed Hiring Lab. “But we aren’t out of the woods yet. The claims are still much higher than the pre-covid era, so it’s still pointing to a lot of economic pain.”
The numbers come during what many economists say is an inflection point for the country’s economy.
Congress continues to wrangle over an extension to the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits that many laid off workers say have helped stabilize their finances — and stave off a deeper crisis from an economy hollowed by evictions, mortgage and credit card defaults, and plunging consumer demand. Those benefits expired last week.
Funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, the $660 billion federal aid program that was meant to help small businesses keep workers on the payroll, are in the process of running out, as well. And the coronavirus’ frightening march since mid-June has added to uncertainty about when — or even if — the country can expect a return in the near future to what was considered a normal way of life and doing business not that long ago.
There are many indications that workers are getting laid off for a second time in just a few short months. In California, for example, which has one of the highest rates of workers on unemployment insurance, an analysis by the University of California, Los Angeles, and the California Employment Development Department found that more than half — 57 percent — of initial unemployment claims filed during the week ending July 25th were from workers re-opening older claims, a large majority of which had been filed early in the crisis.
The unemployment rate for July, as well as the number of jobs added or lost, will be released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from a survey taken early in the month. Many economists expect the country’s unemployment rate to drop from the 11.1 percent it was at in June; but due to the survey’s lag, many caution that the release will not register more recent economic developments that have emerged in recent weeks as the the pandemic has caught up with the country’s economic rebound.
More than a million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, reflecting the continued high level of pandemic-induced layoffs as the US rolls back its economic-reopening efforts.
New US weekly jobless claims totaled 1.43 million in the week that ended Saturday, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That was slightly below the consensus economist estimate of 1.45 million compiled by Bloomberg. It also was a minor increase over the prior week’s 1.3 million filings, a reading that marked the first gain in 15 weeks.
In just a few months, the more than 54 million unemployment claims filed during the coronavirus pandemic have far surpassed the 37 million during the 18-month Great Recession. The latest figure is more than double the 665,000 filed during the Great Recession’s worst week.
“A combination of uncertainty from rising virus cases to the withdrawal of financial support is concerning for an already fragile recovery,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor. “The economy is still in deep risk of falling sideways – where conditions improve so sluggishly that the effects of the crisis become increasingly permanent.”
Continuing claims, which represent the aggregate total of people receiving unemployment benefits, came in at 17 million for the week that ended July 18, a decline from the prior period’s revised number.
Stubbornly high weekly claims for unemployment insurance add to growing concerns that the economic recovery from the pandemic-induced recession is stagnating as coronavirus cases increase. A number of states have had to pause or roll back their reopening plans to deal with COVID-19 spikes, harming the economic recovery.
Going forward, industry watchers will be waiting to see what the July jobs report shows. The report, due August 7, reflects a reference period that includes last week, when initial jobless claims ticked up for the first time in 15 weeks. That could foreshadow a negative headline jobs number in July, although the nonfarm payroll report has become increasingly difficult to predict.
Last week, the additional $600 unemployment benefit from the CARES Act expired, meaning that soon millions of Americans will see a significant decrease in weekly income. The GOP this week introduced its proposal, the HEALS Act, that would cut the weekly benefit to $200 until states could implement a program that’d replace 70% of wages for most filers.
In the week ending July 25, there were 829,697 initial claims from 50 states reporting for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program that extended benefits to gig workers and independent contracts. The total applications for all state programs for the week ending July 11 was 30.2 million.
California’s outpatient health care practices largely shrugged off two recessions, adding more than 400,000 jobs during a two-decade climb from the start of 2000 to early 2020. It was an enviable growth rate of 85% and a trend largely mirrored on the national level.
Then came COVID-19.
Anecdotal stories abound about the crushing impact the pandemic has had on a range of outpatient medical services, from pediatric and family medical practices to dental offices, medical labs and home health care. In California, as in many other states, thousands of doctors, dentists and other health care providers temporarily closed offices this spring as state health officials directed them to suspend non-urgent visits. Many others sat open but largely idle because patients were too scared to visit the doctor given the risk of running into someone with COVID-19 in the waiting room.
As the economy has reopened, so have many medical offices. But the latest state and federal employment data underscores the lingering toll the pandemic has taken on the health care sector.
In California, and across the nation, the number of workers in doctors’ offices grew by more than 50% in the past 20 years, before seeing rapid declines amid COVID-19. This chart shows proportional growth in employment over time, with percentages relative to January 2000.
In California, employment in medical offices providing an array of outpatient care fell by 159,300 jobs, or 18%, from February to April, according to California’s Employment Development Department. The sector has recovered some, but job totals in June remained 7% below pre-crisis levels, the latest figures show. Data is not yet available for July, when COVID-19 cases in California again began to rise sharply and communities across much of the state reverted to partial shutdowns.
Nationwide, employment in outpatient care fell by about 1.3 million jobs, or 17%, from February to April, and in June also remained 7% below pre-crisis levels.
Doctors’ offices typically rely on patient volume for revenue. Without it, they can’t make payroll. Many small medical clinics weren’t flush with cash before the crisis, making COVID-19 an existential threat.
“Never in our history have we had more than a month’s cash on hand,” said Dr. Sumana Reddy, owner of the Acacia Family Medical Group in Monterey County. “Think of it that way.”
Reddy operates two clinics, one in Salinas and the other in the town of Prunedale. Many of her clients come from rural areas where poverty is common. When COVID-19 hit and stay-at-home orders took effect, the number of patients coming to the practice fell by about 50%, Reddy said. To keep her patients safe and her business afloat, Reddy largely shifted to telehealth so she could provide care online.
She also turned to federal aid. “I took the stimulus money,” she said. “I asked for advances from anywhere I could get that. So, now I’m tapped out. I’ve done every single thing that I can think of to do. And there’s nothing more to do.”
By late June, patient volume at Reddy’s practice stood at roughly 70% of the level seen before the crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic prompted steep declines in dental office employment, undoing 20 years of steady growth. This chart shows proportional growth in dental employment over time, with percentages relative to January 2000.
Many dental offices have been hit even harder. From February to April, the number of dental office employees in California fell by 85,000, or 60%, a rate of decline that outpaced even job losses in the state’s restaurant industry. Nationwide, dental employment fell by about 546,000 from February to April, a 56% decline.
“March, April, mid-May — we were pretty much closed except for emergency care,” said Dr. Natasha Lee, who owns Better Living Through Dentistry, a practice in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset neighborhood. “While dental offices were considered essential, most were closed due to guidance from health departments and the CDC to postpone routine and preventative medical and dental care and just to limit things to emergency.”
Lee has reopened her clinic but is doing less business. She and her staff need extra time to clean tools and change their personal protective equipment.
“With the social distancing, the limiting [of] patients in the office at a time and the slowdown we’ve had, we’re probably seeing about, I’d say, two-thirds of our normal capacity in our practice,” she said in late June.
As for employment, California hospitals have fared better than outpatient medical offices. Hospitals shed about 2% of jobs from February to June.
“They have more capacity in a large organization to withstand the same shock,” said John Romley, a professor and economist at the University of Southern California’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics.
Romley said he is optimistic the health care sector overall will recover faster than some other sectors of the economy, since health care remains a necessity.
Still, red flags abound. The recent spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths in many parts of the nation raises the specter of future shutdowns and, with them, additional health care layoffs. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently ordered a second shutdown for dine-in restaurants, movie theaters and bars statewide, as well as churches, gyms and barbershops in much of the state. For now, dental and doctors’ offices can continue operating.
A recent census survey found that 42% of California respondents had put off medical care because of the pandemic.
But it’s uncertain when patients will feel comfortable returning to the doctor for routine and preventive care. A series of Census Bureau surveys conducted between June 11 and July 7 found that 42% of Californians who responded had put off medical care in the previous four weeks because of the pandemic. About 33% said they needed medical care for something unrelated to COVID-19 but did not get it.
“I’ve been telling my staff and patients that we should prepare for things to stay not too different for six months to a year,” Reddy said, “which is pretty depressing for most people to think about.”
On Thursday, for the first time in 16 weeks, the Department of Labor reported an increase in initial unemployment claims, with 1.4 million Americans filing for the first time during the week of July 20. First-time claims peaked in late March with 6.9 million claims, and have fallen each week since until last week. Continued claims for the week were at 16.2 million, showing a drop in almost 1 million claims from the previous week. As unemployment claims look to be increasing, the additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits is set to expire on July 31 (CNN).
Additional economic indicators point to uncertainty. Air travel continues to drop as cases surge nationwide, with 70 percent fewer passengers traveling through security lines compared to a year ago. As we have previously reported, airlines including United and American Airlines have prepared for massive job cuts, and companies including Southwest and United have cut flight schedules by as much as 65 percent (WSJ).
Restaurant reservations have also plummeted, dropping an additional 15 percent from mid-June to late July. Retail and small businesses are also taking a hit as cases continue to rise, with more than 24 percent of small businesses in the U.S. closed as of Sunday, down from 19 percent in late June (CNN).