The two biggest employers of the working poor are retail and leisure (including restaurants), which are good proxies for the overall economic health of low-income workers. Here’s how they’ve been doing:
In both cases, average weekly earnings have recovered to their pre-pandemic level. Among retail employees, average earnings are actually about $30 per week higher than before the pandemic. So if you still have a job in these industries, you’re doing OK.
Fine. But how many people still have jobs?
Both retail and leisure have suffered job losses. Leisure, in particular, has cratered, losing 8 million jobs at its worst point and still down by more than 4 million jobs today. Now let’s take a look at the big picture:
Overall national income is in good shape. The lesson here is simple: we don’t need $1,200 checks that go out to everyone. We don’t really need a lot of generic stimulus spending at all. Overall income is in good shape thanks to the CARES Act, and as long as you still have a job even the working poor are generally doing as well as they were before the pandemic.
What we need is not generic assistance, but assistance for those who actually need it. Primarily that means those who have lost their jobs, but it also means, for example, assistance specifically to the restaurant industry, which has been decimated by COVID-19. It also means states and cities, which are in dire shape thanks to plummeting tax revenue. That should be the top priority of any future coronavirus rescue package.