54 million people fell out of the global middle class last year as the K-shaped recovery went international

Brooklyn food pantry coronavirus
People line up outside a food pantry in Brooklyn on Nov. 12, 2020.

  • Roughly 54 million people fell out of the global middle class during the pandemic recession, Pew data shows.
  • About 152 million people sank into the lower-income class or into poverty, reversing years of improvement.
  • Poorer economies saw the biggest losses, adding to the global recovery’s K-shaped trend.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As economies turn toward reopening and recovery, the coronavirus’ economic toll is coming into focus. The picture is incredibly bleak.

The distribution of COVID-19 vaccines presents a clear end to the pandemic, but new data from the Pew Research Center suggests that returning to pre-pandemic unemployment levels is only the first step toward a full rebound. The firm estimates that 54 million more people fell out of the global middle class in 2020 than would have had the pandemic not emerged.

The classification includes people who live on $10 to $20 a day, or those who earn roughly $14,600 to $29,200 a year. That spread straddles the US poverty line and is well below median earnings in advanced economies.

That decline would’ve been larger had China, which is home to more than one-third of the world’s middle class, not avoided a recession, Rakesh Kochhar, senior researcher at Pew, said. Still, growth in that country has slowed significantly as it faces obstacles to vaccinating its huge population.

Separately, about 152 million people fell from the global upper and middle class into the lower class and poverty. Pew’s definition of global poverty encompasses those living on less than $2 a day, or earning less than $2,920 a year for a family of four.

Like other aspects of the economic downturn, the pandemic’s negative effects have driven an uneven, K-shaped recovery. Middle-class dropouts were most concentrated in South Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific, as those regions saw growth in that cohort stall well before the pandemic hit. The increase in those classified as “poor” was primarily seen in India and Sub-Saharan Africa, reversing years of progress and plunging the regions into new economic pain, Kochhar said.

The regional disparities reflect observations made by the International Monetary Fund in its latest economic projections. The organization expects emerging-market and low-income economies to “suffer more significant medium-term losses,” as they lack the fiscal firepower to power a stronger recovery. Countries with large dependencies on the tourism industry also risk prolonged downturns, the IMF said.

“Recoveries are diverging dangerously across and within countries,” wrote Gita Gopinath, chief economist for the IMF.

At the same time, data collected by Bloomberg show wealthier countries vaccinating 25 times faster than the world’s poorest nations. Advanced economies snapped up doses throughout the fall, creating a shortage that further inflames the recovery’s K-shaped trend.

To be sure, the pandemic only exacerbated trends seen for many years. Most of the world’s population landed in either the low-income or poor groups before the health crisis, while high-earners made up the smallest group. Yet the virus’s damage to service jobs, which are primarily staffed by minorities, low-earners, and women, widened the gaps.

That’s not to say progress can’t be made. The global middle-class population grew by 54 million people annually on average from 2011 to 2019. The pandemic only erased a year of gains at that pace.

Poverty, however, jumped by 131 million people in 2020 after falling at an average annual rate of 49 million people, according to Pew. The setback signals that, at the pre-pandemic pace of improvement, it will still take years to rebound.

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A single GOP senator blocked a bill that would stop private debt collectors seizing stimulus checks

pat toomey gamestop
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

  • GOP Sen. Pat Toomey blocked a bill meant to stop debt collectors seizing stimulus checks.
  • Democrats had hoped to pass the measure to maximize the help people would get.
  • But Toomey intervened, saying debt collectors had the right to claim cash owed.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey on Thursday blocked a bill meant to bar private debt collectors from seizing checks issued as part of the recent stimulus bill.

The law that Toomey opposes had been proposed by Democratic senators Ron Wyden and Sherrod Brown.

Such a measure was included in the December stimulus package passed under President Donald Trump, which provided $600 checks.

However, it was not included in the latest stimulus bill passed under President Joe Biden, which provided $1,400 checks to most Americans.

Democrats still supported the proposal, but had to leave it out because of the rules of the Senate mechanism known as “budget reconciliation” which was used to pass the latest stimulus.

That mechanism let Democrats pass the bill without any GOP votes, but comes with limits on what is allowed. The same rules led to proposals for a $15 federal minimum wage being dropped.

Democrats tried to introduce the rule in separate legislation, arguing that the cash is meant to help struggling Americans rather than debt collection agencies.

Wyden and Brown proposed the measure under a unanimous consent rule, which allows bills to pass quickly and bypass some lengthy Senate procedures.

However, any single senator can block such a proposal, which Toomey chose to do.

Toomey argued that Democrats were to blame for the rule not being in the recent relief bill, because they chose not to involve Republicans in putting it together.

He said that debt collectors had “valid legal claims” against people who “owe money to someone else and that someone else has gone to court, and it’s been adjudicated.”

The senator also said that, with 90 million relief checks already issued, it was too late to seek the amendment.

The process of the relief check money being seized by creditors is known as “garnishment.”

“These payments have already gone out the door,” Toomey said. “The garnishment happens automatically. It’s already happened!”

Toomey’s objection means it is likely that many other relief checks will be seized by debt collectors.

In comments to the Huffington Post, Brown said “we will keep trying” to get the measure passed. Senators can still try to pass it without unanimous consent, which would take longer and would also require some Republican support to evade filibuster rules.

“Families are hanging on by a thread, but Senate Republicans blocked protections against their relief payments from being seized to pay credit card and medical debt. It’s shameful,” said Wyden in a statement Thursday.

It is unclear if there is wide backing in the Senate GOP for Toomey’s objection to the measure. Republicans have supported the measure before but may not in future.

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The $1.9 trillion stimulus bill would literally pay parents for having kids, and it could dramatically change America’s social safety net forever

family child tax credit mothers
The child tax credit, part of the stimulus bill, would give parents up to $3,600 per child.

Later this week, President Joe Biden is set to sign a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill into law that would inject a massive amount of federal cash into nearly every part of the economy. Much of that direct aid would temporarily benefit people as the nation’s economy slowly begins recovering from the pandemic.

But the legislation also plants the seeds for what could be a major transformation of the nation’s social safety net for the lowest-income Americans. The bill contains a one-year provision to dramatically expand the child tax credit, which would allow for parents to receive up to $3,600 per child.

Democrats aim to distribute this credit through monthly checks. Parents with children ages 5 and under could get a $300 payment per child, while those with kids between 6 and 16 could get $250 each month.

Some Democrats in the House and the Senate have said they will press to make it a permanent benefit program later this year. Biden told House Democrats last week he supported making the temporary beefed-up child tax credit permanent, though it’s unclear if that applies to monthly checks.

Democrats seem to be wagering that giving this credit to families for one year will be so popular that the case for making it permanent will be obvious.

There is some support on the right for this idea, too: Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah proposed a larger cash benefit for families last month.

Researchers at Columbia University projected the measure would form a key component in cutting the child poverty rate nearly in half, a statistic that Biden and other White House officials have cited repeatedly in recent days. The bill would also halve the poverty rate for Black and Hispanic children, according to the Columbia study.

If it does so, the policy may revolutionize the government’s relationship with families by offering a universal benefit to many with the potential to lift them out of poverty. That has been a key priority of Democrats for decades.

The relief package is “one of the most consequential and most progressive pieces of legislation in American history,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

‘Social Security for Children’

Democrats and progressives already see similarities between this child tax credit expansion and historic additions to the social safety net from the 1930s and ’60s during the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, respectively.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro of New York, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, compared the initiative to “Social Security for children” in an interview with The New York Times – essentially another program directed at providing a basic income to a specific segment of Americans.

Chuck Marr, the director of federal tax policy at the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Progressive Priorities, drew a comparison between the proposed program and Johnson’s push to curb poverty through his “Great Society” program. Johnson’s goal was, as he put it in his first State of the Union address, “not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.”

Marr told Insider if the child tax credit became permanent, “it becomes a landmark achievement.”

Current law prevents many of the poorest families from tapping into the child tax credit that the federal government offers. The maximum amount for families with small tax bills is $1,400, and nearly one-third of children live in families with earnings too low to qualify. The stimulus would make this tax credit fully refundable instead, meaning households could receive cash even if they had no tax obligations – but only for the duration of 2021.

If the child tax credit became a permanent fixture in the US economy, America would move closer to many Western European countries, including Germany and Sweden, which have a universal child benefit. Canada and Australia also have generous tax-free child benefit programs that phase out for top earners.

A permanent child tax credit along the lines of the stimulus would be on par with Luxembourg’s family allowance, which offers a standardized monthly amount of $313 per child (this increases slightly at ages 6 and 12). It would be higher than Denmark’s $732 quarterly allowance for children ages 0 to 2 and $151 monthly allowance for those ages 15 to 17.

The other countries that offer such programs typically have lower child poverty. Denmark, which spends 20.9% of its GDP on social programs, has a child poverty rate of 2.9%, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

As of 2019, the US child poverty rate was 14.4%.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Democrats may be about to change the relationship of families to the government forever

family child tax credit mothers
The child tax credit, part of the stimulus bill, would give parents up to $3,600 per child.

Later this week, President Joe Biden is set to sign a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill into law that will inject a massive amount of federal cash into nearly every part of the economy. Much of that direct aid will temporarily benefit individuals as the nation’s economy slowly begins recovering from the pandemic.

But the legislation also plants the seeds for what could be a major transformation of the nation’s social safety net for the lowest-income Americans. The bill contains a one-year provision to dramatically expand the child tax credit, allowing for parents to receive up to $3,600 per child.

Democrats aim to distribute this credit through monthly checks. Parents with children aged 5 and under could get a $300 payment per child, while those with kids between 6 and 16 could get $250 each month.

Some Democrats in the House and the Senate have said they will press to make it a permanent benefit program later this year. Biden told House Democrats last week he supports making the temporary beefed-up child tax credit permanent, although it’s unclear if that applies to monthly checks.

Democrats seem to be wagering that giving this credit to families for one year will be so popular that the case for making it permanent will be obvious.

There is some support on the right for this idea, too: Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah proposed a larger cash benefit for families last month.

Researchers at Columbia University project the Biden measure would form a key component in cutting the child poverty rate nearly in half, a statistic that Biden and other White House officials have cited repeatedly in recent days. The bill would also halve the poverty rate for Black and Hispanic children, per the Columbia study.

If it does so, the policy may revolutionize the government’s relationship with families by offering a universal benefit to many with the potential to lift them out of poverty. That has been a key priority of Democrats for decades.

The relief package is “one of the most consequential and most progressive pieces of legislation in American history,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

‘Social Security for Children’

Democrats and progressives already see similarities between this child tax credit expansion and historic additions to the social safety net from the 1930s and 1960s, in the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, respectively.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro of New York, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, compared the initiative to “Social Security for children” in an interview with The New York Times – essentially another program aimed at providing a basic income to a specific segment of Americans.

Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy at the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Progressive Priorities, drew a comparison between the proposed program and Johnson’s push to curb poverty through his “Great Society” program. Johnson’s aim was, as he put it in his first state of the union address, “not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.”

Marr told Insider that if the child tax credit becomes permanent, “it becomes a landmark achievement.”

Current law prevents many of the poorest families from tapping into the child tax credit that the federal government offers. The maximum amount for families with small tax bills is $1,400, and nearly a third of children live in families with earnings too low to qualify. The stimulus makes this tax credit fully refundable instead, meaning households could receive cash even if they have no tax obligations – but only does so for the duration of 2021.

If the child tax credit becomes a permanent fixture in the US economy, America would move closer to many Western European countries, including Germany and Sweden, which have a universal child benefit. Canada and Australia also have generous tax-free child benefit programs that phase out for top earners.

A permanent child tax credit along the lines of the stimulus would be on par with Luxembourg’s family allowance, which offers a standardized monthly amount of $313 per child (this increases slightly at ages 6 and 12). It would be higher than Denmark’s $732 quarterly allowance for children ages 0 to 2 and $151 monthly allowance for those ages 15 to 17.

The other countries that offer such programs typically have lower child poverty. Denmark, which spends 20.9% of its GDP on social programs, has a child poverty rate of 2.9%, per the The Economic Policy Institute.

As of 2019, the US child poverty rate was 14.4%.

Read the original article on Business Insider