Jun 30, 2021 - Podcasts

The disappearing unemployment lifeline

During the pandemic, self-employed, gig and freelance workers were eligible for unemployment benefits. Now, as states start cutting back on those pandemic-era programs, that subset of workers is about to get shut out of those benefits.

  • Plus, the latest from the Florida building collapse.
  • And, reparations via Venmo.

Guests: Axios' Courtenay Brown, Erin Doherty and Hope King.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected].

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, June 30th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: the latest from the Florida building collapse. Plus, reparations via Venmo.

But first, the disappearing unemployment lifeline is today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: During the pandemic self-employed gig and freelance workers were eligible for unemployment benefits. Now as states are cutting back on those pandemic-era programs, that subset of workers is about to get shut out of these benefits. Axios’ markets reporter Courtenay Brown has been tracking this and joins us now.

Good morning, Courtenay.

COURTENAY BROWN: Good morning, Niala.

NIALA: Courtenay, this type of worker typically hasn't been eligible for jobless assistance. How did this change during the pandemic?

COURTENAY: Well, the pandemic kind of ushered in a new era in America for unemployment support for these workers who represent a huge subset of our economy. These are Uber drivers. These are people with limited work history. These are people who work in a salon who may not be considered a true employee. When the pandemic hit and the first relief package was passed, all of these workers became eligible for unemployment.

NIALA: Do we know how many people actually use this or relied on these benefits?

COURTENAY: Oh, this is a point of contention if you go and ask economists how many people are relying on this program. Officially, it's nearly 6 million people collecting unemployment through this program. That's out of about 14.8 million who are on the unemployment rolls altogether. But there's been so many issues with this program in state labor departments across the country. A lot of economists say that number is inflated for fraud, for reporting problems, things of that nature.

NIALA: Does this reflect a change, Courtenay ending benefits for the subset of self-employed gig and freelance workers in how states are approaching these benefits in this phase of the pandemic?

COURTENAY: What we're seeing right now between states moving to cut off the extra unemployment money that folks are receiving and ending unemployment programs altogether for some workers, it's this grand experiment that's underway in parts of the country. You know, I think governors are saying that they're cutting off these people because they want to coax people back to work, but it's really unclear and there's very little data so far to back up for sure whether this approach is working or not. And it's tough to say when we'll know whether this worked or didn't work.

NIALA: Courtenay Brown writes the Axios Closer newsletter. Thanks, Courtenay.

COURTENAY: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with the international rescue effort in South Florida.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

At least eleven people are confirmed dead after the deadly collapse of a condominium building in Surfside last Thursday. 150 are still unaccounted for - even as rescue teams have removed some 3 million pounds of concrete from the site.

CHARLES BURKETT: I’m not really interested in stopping the rescue efforts at all.

NIALA: That’s the mayor of Surfside, Charles Burkett who will be meeting with President Joe Biden and the First Lady tomorrow when they visit the site of the collapse.

Erin Doherty has been covering this for Axios and is joining us now to catch us up -- Erin, thanks for being with us!

ERIN DOHERTY: Thank you so much for having me.

NIALA: Erin, we just heard the mayor say he's not interested in stopping rescue efforts. What are we hearing from the families?

ERIN: Yeah, definitely. I think the families… their responses have kind of shifted over the last several days. There's been reports of fires burning beneath the rubble. Rescuers are working 12 hour shifts, and there's been reports of rescuers who have fallen, you know, several stories while doing rescues. So I think a lot of families are beginning to accept the fate of their loved ones.

NIALA: Erin, since the collapse, we've also seen a lot of reports on the condition the building was in. What do we know about how this could have happened?

ERIN: There hasn't been an answer that's been nailed down and a lot of experts are saying that it could take several months, if not years, to determine the cause. It will most likely be a sort of combination of factors that led to the building's collapse. Some experts are saying that when they look at the video footage, there is evidence that potentially the lowest part of the complex and some of the structures might've contributed to the collapse of the building. There was a report from 2018 that showed issues with the structure of the pool outside of the building. But again, nothing has been confirmed and this investigation will likely continue for a very, very long time.

NIALA: Erin, I imagine president Biden will be sitting down with the surviving families. What do we know about the residents in the building?

ERIN: Yes, definitely. So the building sits in Surfside, Florida, which is a small beach town. It's a very tight knit community. It really was a very international building, just like a lot of different residential areas in South Florida. There were nine Argentinians in the building, the family of Paraguay's first lady, at least six Venezuelans, the relatives of Chile's ex-president, several Jewish community members, long-time Miami residents. Mexico and Israel have sent rescuers to help in the search for victims of the collapse. The building really kind of represents a lot of the kind of multiculturalism in South Florida. And so, while it feels like a South Florida story, it really touches on parts of Latin America as a whole.

NIALA: Axios’ Erin Doherty. Thanks, Erin.

ERIN: Thank you so much.

NIALA: The U.N. human rights chief this week issued a report calling for reparations, as one solution to addressing systemic racism globally. Many people aren't waiting for governments, especially the U.S. government to take action. Instead they're doing it themselves, in the form of peer to peer reparations: People asking for and receiving donations through apps like Venmo. Axios’ business reporter Hope King has been following this story. Hi Hope!

HOPE KING: Hi, Niala, how are you?

NIALA: Hope, how does this work?

HOPE: Well, it's pretty simple. I mean, if you were on Twitter during the first official Juneteenth holiday, you may have seen some of these tweets come up, people putting their Cashapp accounts on Twitter, their Venmo accounts, and saying, Hey, time to pay up!

NIALA: And how many people are actually paying them?

HOPE: Well, I wasn't able to get any data specifically from Venmo or Cashapp. They declined to provide that data for our story. But, from what I could tell in terms of just the number of requests, there were definitely a huge number of people asking for them. Some people had gone in and also updated whether or not they had gotten the reparations, but it was hard to actually track who actually received them. There were a total of 91,000 tweets with those.. since the beginning of the year. Now breaking that down, about 30% were sent around the first federal Juneteenth holiday. About 27,000+ tweets sent around that holiday. And if you compare it to the rest of the year, there were other notable spikes during the year...Most significantly there was a spike during the Capitol riots and during the start of Black History Month in February.

NIALA: Can you give us an example of like what one tweet might say?

HOPE: A lot of people mentioned that they were part of the Black community, that they needed this money. This also began to trend last year, following the police killing of George Floyd and the start of the Black Lives Matter movement once again. People who have access to these platforms, know how to use them, they know how to reach their audiences. And people are getting more comfortable, also sharing that information. And if you've seen the bigger trend with social platforms adding tip jars, for example, the practice of actually giving money to peers is becoming a bigger trend.

NIALA: Axios’ Hope King. Thank you.

HOPE: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: Here’s one more headline before we go - The pandemic created a horrible hunger crisis in the US - 1 in 7 Americans experienced food insecurity in 2020, up almost 30% from 2019. Now, Google is making it easier for people to find their nearest food bank with a new locator tool in Google Maps. The new feature maps out nearly 90,000 food banks, pantries and school meal program pickup sites.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com or reach out to me on twitter.

If you want more news before tomorrow - tune into our afternoon podcast Axios Re:Cap.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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