CHN’s COVID-19 Watch: Tracking Hardship January 21, 2022
January 21, 2022
Biden’s first year edition. As President Biden marks his first year in office, the pandemic continues to exert its toll on the nation’s health care system and economy and presents a significant challenge that the Biden Administration has worked to address since Inauguration Day. At the same time, as we assess the President’s first year, we can see there is much to celebrate. 2021 witnessed unprecedented growth and recovery – and it did not happen by accident. The country experienced record job gains and a historic drop in unemployment. This was mostly the result of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and the COVID-19 vaccine program. As the Center for American Progress wrote this week, “Bold federal action helped families make ends meet through additional stimulus checks; expanded unemployment insurance benefits; expanded monthly Child Tax Credit payments; and other policies. These policies addressed weakness in the social safety net that became more acute during the pandemic but existed well beforehand.”
Today average daily infection rates are just under 800,000. Hospitalizations and deaths are rising. Cases are up more than 300 percent in California and 200 percent in Oregon. Experts say the country is probably several weeks away from reaching its peak infection rate. Yet it is equally clear that some parts of the country already have experienced their peak – this is true for the Eastern Seaboard cities of Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Increased vaccination rates, while uneven around the country, lessened omicron’s toll, but COVID-19 isn’t done with us yet.
A raging health crisis underscores the need for more people covered by affordable health insurance. Here, the Biden Administration delivered. Today 5 million more Americans have health insurance than when the President took office. A record number of people have signed up for Obamacare, spurred in part by lower premiums provided under the American Rescue Plan.
The child poverty rate in 2021 was nearly 30 percent lower than it would have been without the expanded CTC payments, and fell 38 percent over the course of the year. After the CTC payments began, the number of families reporting that they were experiencing food insufficiency dropped by 37 percent.
Biden’s first year was particularly impressive for workers. In 2021, workers, particularly low-income workers, regained power in the labor market and used that power to demand better-quality jobs and higher wages. A particular highlight in the Biden Administration came on November 15, 2021, when President Biden signed into law the $1.2 trillion, bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This bill will create jobs, provide clean drinking water, upgrade the nation’s roads, airports, and rail, and is a critical first step toward a clean energy future. And it helps workers by promising decent wages and benefits, keeping jobs in the U.S., and providing training opportunities for people from all walks of life so that workers in marginalized communities can benefit and help grow the middle class.
It is important to recognize that Americans feel frustration, fear, concern, and even anger when it comes to inflation – and people of color and low-wage workers are feeling inflation’s bite the most. But even with inflation taken into account, Americans still had more disposable income in 2021 than in 2020 or 2019. This was due to employment gains, wage growth – particularly among low-wage workers – and direct aid to families provided by the American Rescue Plan.
Have there been disappointments? Of course there have –partly due to the closely divided margins, especially in the Senate, to adverse court decisions, and sometimes to the Administration’s own choices. Advocates are keenly disappointed that more has not been done to protect immigrant families and children arriving at our southern border. There is bitter disappointment that the Senate has not moved on voting reforms. Then there is palpable fear among advocates about what will be left out of the Build Back Better legislation, even assuming it passes in some form. Will children be sacrificed? Or the elderly? What about home health care workers?
We’ve seen a lot of hard-won progress during the Biden Administration’s first year, despite the challenges of COVID, painful national divisions and racial disparities. But now comes the test: can we keep what we’ve gained; can we build on it?
As a reminder: monthly expanded Child Tax Credit payments ended in December and won’t start up again unless the Senate acts. You can call your Senators today and tell them we need to continue the expanded Child Tax Credit: 1-888-738-3058 (thanks to NETWORK for the use of the number).