Keith Prisco is a stagehand at the United Center in Chicago and a proud union member of IATSE Local 2. Like tens of millions of Americans, he receives health insurance through his employer for himself and his family. The security of this coverage is even more important for Keith after he was diagnosed with leukemia four years ago. But when COVID-19 put a screeching halt on live events, that meant Keith was out of work — jeopardizing his health care coverage in the middle of a pandemic.

As COVID-19 continues to threaten the health and safety of Americans, millions of workers have found themselves under threat of losing their jobs, their health coverage, and their financial savings — all through no fault of their own.

It is unconscionable that unemployed or furloughed workers could also lose health coverage during a public health crisis, yet there are an estimated 10 to 15 million Americans who have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance since the pandemic began. Many unemployed Americans would prefer to remain on their employer health plan, known as COBRA, but it is often prohibitively expensive — on average, $1,700 per month for a family.

From the earliest days of this crisis, the Chicago labor movement and Sen. Durbin identified continuing health coverage for working people as a critical issue.

That’s why labor unions, health care providers, and consumer organizations are joining with Congress to call for the passage of the Worker Health Coverage Protection Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Durbin that would protect millions of unemployed or furloughed workers from losing their health insurance by enabling them to access subsidized COBRA coverage and keep their insurance. The bill would provide a 100 percent subsidy of COBRA health insurance premiums owed by unemployed workers, in nearly all employment-based health plans,

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. employment growth slowed more than expected in September and over 300,000 Americans lost their jobs permanently, dealing a potential blow to President Donald Trump ahead of the fiercely contested Nov. 3 presidential election.

The Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday underscored an urgent need for additional fiscal stimulus to aid the economy’s recovery from a recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The slowdown in hiring compounds problems for Trump, who announced overnight that he had tested positive for coronavirus.

Just over half of the 22.2 million jobs lost during the pandemic have been recouped. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee, blames the economic turmoil on the White House’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people and infected over 7 million in the nation.

“The jobs report adds to Trump’s woes,” said James Knightley, chief international economist at ING in New York. “Betting odds signal a diminished chance he will win re-election and a much higher probability of a Democrat clean sweep.”

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 661,000 jobs last month, the smallest gain since the jobs recovery started in May, after advancing 1.489 million in August. Every sector added jobs with the exception of government, which shed 216,000 positions because of the departure of temporary workers hired for the Census and layoffs at state and local government education departments as many school districts shift to online learning.

Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector increased by 318,000, accounting for nearly half of the gain in nonfarm employment. Payrolls are 10.7 million below their pre-pandemic level. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 850,000 jobs were created in September. Employment growth peaked in June when payrolls jumped by a record 4.781 million jobs.

(Graphic: Nonfarm payrolls –

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. employment growth slowed more than expected in September and over 300,000 Americans lost their jobs permanently, dealing a potential blow to President Donald Trump ahead of the fiercely contested Nov. 3 presidential election.

The Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday underscored an urgent need for additional fiscal stimulus to aid the economy’s recovery from a recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The slowdown in hiring compounds problems for Trump, who announced overnight that he had tested positive for coronavirus.

Just over half of the 22.2 million jobs lost during the pandemic have been recouped. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party nominee, blames the economic turmoil on the White House’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people and infected over 7 million in the nation.

“The jobs report adds to Trump’s woes,” said James Knightley, chief international economist at ING in New York. “Betting odds signal a diminished chance he will win re-election and a much higher probability of a Democrat clean sweep.”

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 661,000 jobs last month, the smallest gain since the jobs recovery started in May, after advancing 1.489 million in August. Every sector added jobs with the exception of government, which shed 216,000 positions because of the departure of temporary workers hired for the Census and layoffs at state and local government education departments as many school districts shift to online learning.

Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector increased by 318,000, accounting for nearly half of the gain in nonfarm employment. Payrolls are 10.7 million below their pre-pandemic level. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 850,000 jobs were created in September. Employment growth peaked in June when payrolls jumped by a record 4.781 million jobs.

(Graphic: Nonfarm payrolls – )

The unemployment

Facing enormous financial strain because of the shutdown of the theater industry, the health insurance fund that covers thousands of stage actors is making it more difficult for them to qualify for coverage.

Currently, professional actors and stage managers have to work 11 weeks to qualify for six months of coverage. But starting Jan. 1, they will have to work 16 weeks to qualify for a similar level of coverage.

Nonprofit and commercial theater producers contribute to the health fund when they employ unionized actors and stage managers, but because theaters have been closed since March, those contributions — which make up 88 percent of the fund’s revenue — have largely ceased.

“The fact that we have no contributed income is something no one could have foreseen,” said Christopher Brockmeyer, a Broadway League executive who co-chairs the fund’s board of trustees, which is evenly divided between representatives of the Actors’ Equity union and producers. “We really put together the only viable option to cover as many people as possible with meaningful benefits under these totally unprecedented circumstances.”

Brockmeyer and his co-chair, Madeleine Fallon, said the fund, which currently provides insurance coverage for about 6,700 Equity members, is facing its biggest financial challenge since the height of the AIDS crisis. At that time, the challenge was high expenses for the fund; this time, it is low revenues.

“Everybody is out of work, everybody is panicked, everybody has lost income and can’t make their art, and on top of that their health fund is in crisis,” said Fallon, who leads the union bloc on the board. “It’s been an emotionally difficult journey, but we hope our members will understand that we did find the plan that gives us our best chance to rebuild.”

Under the new system, those who work at least

The U.S. Labor Department will announce how many jobs were created in September this Friday, October 2, before the markets open. ADP estimates that the economy added 749,000 jobs in the month, down from 1.37 million in August. This compares to the consensus estimate of 850,000 per Trading Economics (its projection is 915,000) and 800,000 from Capital Economics.

Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute, said, “The labor market continues to recover gradually. In September, the majority of sectors and company sizes experienced gains with trade, transportation and utilities; and manufacturing leading the way. However, small businesses continued to demonstrate slower growth.”

Unemployment claims are still at historical levels

From the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, “Since March 15, 62 million individuals have filed a claim, largely because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and measures to mitigate it. In each of the past 27 weeks, more claims have been generated than in any week in history; the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 was set in the week that ended on October 2, 1982.” As can be seen in the chart below for the past four weeks the number of people filing for unemployment has essentially been flat at 900,000 per week.

There have been a number of companies in the past week that have announced layoffs. This will continue to keep new claims at elevated levels.

  • Disney: 28,000
  • Airlines: 40,000 (unless Congress and President Trump agree to a new stimulus package)
  • Shell: 9,000
  • Dow: 6% of its workforce

Additionally there have been 19 million claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA claims. Over the past seven weeks new PAU claims have ranged from 1.5 to 1.8 million.