The Safety Net Got a Quick Patch. What Happens After the Coronavirus?

While the current free-fall in employment is unique, liberals say low-wage work is inherently unstable, since hours fluctuate, workers get sick, and jobs frequently end — as they are now doing on a vast scale over the coronavirus. Only about one in four unemployed workers collected jobless benefits last year, and for low-wage workers the share is lower.

“People are working in jobs over which they have very little control,” said Olivia Golden, director of the Center on Law and Social Policy. “They can be laid off for reasons that have nothing to do with their willingness to work.”

Despite the declines, child poverty in the United States remains higher than in most similar countries. About 17.2 percent of American children live on less than half the median income, said Timothy Smeeding, an economist at the University of Wisconsin, citing data from Luxembourg Income Study. That compares to 11.9 percent in Canada, 10.2 percent in the United Kingdom, and 9.4 percent in Ireland. The United States also spends less on needy families as a share of its economy.

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