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Labor Report

Governor Wolf Prioritizes Pandemic Relief, Minimum Wage, Workforce Development in Budget Plan

Senator Tartaglione applauded the pandemic relief, minimum wage, job creation, and workforce development programs proposed by Governor Tom Wolf in his Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget address on February 3rd. The administration’s $38 billion spending plan incorporates many of the senator’s own legislative initiatives as well as those she has supported with her Democratic Caucus colleagues.

Senator Tartaglione issued the following response to the budget address:

“I have long fought within the General Assembly for policies that improve the lives of Pennsylvania’s workers, their families, and their communities. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, these priorities are more important now than they have ever been. I applaud Governor Wolf for incorporating my agenda into the administration’s proposals, and for sharing my vision of a Commonwealth defined by equality and opportunity for all.

“With approximately 5 million Pennsylvanians having filed for unemployment benefits since March, we must focus on putting people back to work. I fully support the new round of small business assistance requested by the governor as well as his recommendation that Pennsylvania reinvest federal pandemic funding into remediating toxic materials in our schools. Projects like those will keep our school children safe and create good-paying jobs.

“The governor and I agree it is vital that Pennsylvania raise its minimum wage. The current rate, $7.25 an hour, amounts to a poverty wage. Raising the rate to $12 this year and $15 over the next six years will allow low-wage earners to work their way out of poverty while improving morale and productivity, and reducing their reliance on public assistance. As a result, my minimum wage legislation, SB 12, will also benefit employers, taxpayers, and our consumer economy. Importantly, it will help advance income equality for women and minorities.

“Our budget must serve the Commonwealth’s urgent job creation needs, but we must also look ahead and consider how we will help prepare Pennsylvanians for employment opportunities of the future. The governor’s proposed investment in a reformed workforce development system will enable Pennsylvanians to acquire marketable job skills and will help rebuild the middle class. And it will also help to remove the barriers to employment faced by many folks, such as transportation and childcare needs.

“Overall, I am very encouraged that Governor Wolf has prioritized sorely needed pandemic relief and recovery initiatives while reiterating his long-standing advocacy for the pro-worker and pro-family agenda that we share. I look forward to working with the administration and my legislative colleagues during the upcoming budget process to achieve these objectives.” 

L&I Secretary Warns of Unemployment Fraud, Provides Update on Federal Benefits Programs

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry has discovered a new series of web-based scams targeting unemployment benefits recipients, and it has provided an update on improvements to the department’s implementation of federal pandemic-related benefits programs.

L&I Acting Secretary Jennifer Berrier stated that fraudsters have tried to obtain claimants’ personal and confidential information through fake Facebook pages that purport to be affiliated with unemployment benefits programs.

“Unfortunately, the availability of new federal unemployment money is causing a surge in fraud attempts,” Secretary Berrier said. “L&I does not communicate directly with individuals over social media, including Facebook.”

L&I has an official Facebook page that features a blue check mark next to the name to identify the page as a verified page. Any comments posted by L&I through the page also have a blue check mark. The Department does not post responses directly to claimants, does not send private messages, or ask for a private message to be sent. L&I will not use Facebook to ask individuals to call or text a phone number or to ask individuals to send an email.

Separately, Secretary Berrier stated that L&I continues to improve its implementation of the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs.

“While L&I has fixed many of the issues we experienced with the PEUC and PUA extension implementations, there are a few remaining problems that our dedicated team is working around the clock to resolve,” Secretary Berrier said. “I want to thank the helpful claimants who reach out to us to report problems.”

CDC Releases Analysis of Vaccination Rate Among Nursing Home Staff

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that only 38% of nursing home staff in the United States accepted COVID-19 vaccination shots when offered to them.

“Among 11,460 (Skilled Nursing Facilities) with at least one vaccination clinic conducted during the first month of the CDC Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, a median of 77.8% of residents and 37.5% of staff members received (one or more) vaccine dose through the program,” the CDC reported.

Dr. Radhika Gharpure, the lead author of the study and a member of the CDC’s Vaccine Task Force, said, “These findings show we have a lot of work to do to increase confidence and also really understand the barriers to vaccination amongst this population,” according to USA Today.

Many employees have raised concerns about vaccine side effects and the expedited authorization process used to approve vaccines for widespread use.

“Some said they didn’t trust the government, or referenced false claims about the shots,” the newspaper reported. “… More staff members are signing up for shots on the second and third visits, suggesting the hesitancy may be waning at least somewhat.”

Dr. Gharpure informed The Times-Tribune that the results represent only those staff members who were vaccinated at their place of employment but did not account for staff that may have gotten their shots elsewhere or who were not on duty or available when the shots were administered.

On the state level, a Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesman said vaccination rates among nursing home staff members are not being tracked, according to The Times-Tribune.

US Labor Secretary Nominee Touts Worker Priorities, Receives Bipartisan Support at Confirmation Hearing

Near the conclusion of a two-and-a-half-hour US Senate confirmation hearing on February 4th, the ranking member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions signaled that there will be bipartisan support Secretary of Labor Nominee Marty Walsh, who would have to resign as mayor of Boston before assuming the cabinet position.

“I expect by the end of this hearing I will be able to support your nomination and encourage my colleagues to support you as well. And I look forward to working with you,” Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) said to Mayor Walsh.

A vote by the full US Senate on the nomination is expected within days.

Throughout the hearing, Mayor Walsh expressed support for many labor movement priorities. Raising the minimum wage, advancing the PRO Act, enhancing workplace safety (including COVID-19 protections), restoring Obama-era joint employer regulations, combatting wage theft, preserving multi-employer pensions, and workforce development are among those priorities. The nominee also spoke of the need to more substance use disorder recovery services and mental health services for the workforce.

“During this pandemic Mayor Walsh has … continued to show a deep commitment to the frontline workers who have kept this country running, by providing funding for emergency childcare and other resources essential workers need to weather this pandemic,” Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), the committee chairwoman, said according to The Boston Globe. “It is clear Mayor Walsh has the right experience, leadership, and priorities to protect workers during this critical moment.”

CNN reported that one of the most pressing issues facing the next labor secretary will be worker classification, particularly in regard to the technology-based gig economy. Growth in the sector has accelerated during the pandemic.

“Millions of Americans have lost their jobs as the health crisis created an economic crisis,” the network reported. “And many turned to working for companies like Uber, Instacart, and DoorDash as a backstop for their livelihoods. Instacart alone added hundreds of thousands of contract workers last year to meet demand for grocery delivery spurred by the pandemic.”

January 2021 National Jobs Update

The seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate fell to 6.3% in January 2021, declining 0.4% over the month, resuming its decline after remaining unchanged in December 2020. The rate in January was down 8.5% from 14.8% in April, its highest level in the history of the seasonally adjusted series (dating back to 1948 - prior to this time, unemployment was estimated to have hit roughly 25% during the Great Depression of the 1930s). Between February and April 2020, the national unemployment rate rose 11.3% (from 3.5% to 14.8%).

This and the other changes to data noted in this update reflect the evolution of the national employment situation through the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment rolls fell by 606,000 individuals in January 2021, with total unemployment declining to 10.130 million. In comparison to April 2020, when unemployment hit a series record high of 23.109 million (with growth of 17.392 million between February and April), total unemployment was down by 12.979 million in January 2021. As has been the case during the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has indicated that unemployment figures would have been higher for the month if survey respondents who were on temporary layoff had been properly classified as unemployed.

As of January 2021, the national unemployment rate stood 2.8% higher than its level of 3.5% in February 2020 (which matched the nearly 50-year low seen in 2019) with total unemployment standing 4.413 million higher than the February 2020 level of 5.717 million individuals. The figures in January 2021 close out President Trump’s term with the unemployment rate standing 1.6% higher and total unemployment standing 2.664 million higher than when he took office in January 2017. National unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 10,130,000
  • Change Over Month –    DOWN   606,000
  • Change Over 11 Months –    UP    4,413,000
  • Change Over Year –    UP   4,334,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –    UP    2,664,000
  • Rate Change Over Month –    DOWN   0.4%
  • Rate Change Over 11 Months –    UP   2.8%
  • Rate Change Over Year –    UP   2.8%
  • Rate Change Over Trump Term –   UP   1.6%
  • Rate Change Over Obama 2nd Term –    DOWN   3.3%

As indicated above, total unemployment’s rounded percentage of the labor force, or unemployment rate, fell over the month (rate = unemployment / labor force). The labor force is the total number of employed individuals combined with the total number of unemployed individuals actively searching for work. Growth in the labor force can be a sign of a strengthening economy from more people working and/or more individuals searching for jobs. The national labor force continued to struggle to regain ground in January 2021 as it fell by 406,000 individuals (a combination of total employment* rising by 201,000 and total unemployment down by 606,000 individuals as noted above) for the month, lowering its total to 160,161,000.

As of January 2021, the labor force stood 3.683 million individuals (unemployment -12,979,000 & employment +16,661,000) above its pandemic period low of 156,478,000 in April 2020, after falling by 7.970 million between February and April. However, the January 2021 labor force was 4.287 million individuals (unemployment +4,413,000 & employment -8,701,000) lower than its level of 164,448,000 in February 2020 (near the record high of 164,579,000 in December 2019). The total in January closes out President Trump’s term with the labor force standing 545,000 individuals (unemployment +2,664,000 & employment -2,119,000) higher than it was when he took office in January 2017. National labor force statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Labor Force – 160,161,000
  • Change Over Month –    DOWN   406,000
  • Change Over 11 Months –    DOWN   4,287,000
  • Change Over Year -    DOWN   4,294,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –    UP   545,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term –    UP    3,853,000

Following a decline in December 2020, non-farm* job growth picked up again in January 2021, though growth was minor with only 49,000 new jobs added. Total non-farm employment grew to 142.631 million in January, 12.470 million higher than its pandemic period low of 130.161 million in April 2020 (following a loss of 22.362 million between February and April).

As of January 2021, total non-farm employment stood 9.892 million less than its record high level of 152.523 million in February 2020. The total in January closes out President Trump’s term with non-farm employment standing 2.981 million less than it was when he took office in January 2017. National non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Non-Farm Employment – 142,631,000
  • Change Over Month –    UP   49,000
  • Change Over 11 Months –    DOWN   9,892,000
  • Change Over Year –    DOWN   9,603,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –    DOWN   2,981,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term –   UP   10,349,000

*Total employment for labor force provided by U.S. Census Household survey. The separate BLS Establishment survey measures non-farm jobs only.