WGBH News May 27, 2020
Ever since the springtime roll-out of the Paycheck Protection Program — the federal program meant to support small businesses suffering during the coronavirus pandemic — critics have sounded the alarm about loopholes that have sent millions of dollars to corporations and failed to reach some of those that need it most, particularly black and Latino entrepreneurs. This inequality is just one example of what former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich has described as a “tale of two pandemics.” Reich joined Jim Braude to discuss.
Just as coronavirus infection and death rates have highlighted race and income disparities in American healthcare, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said the distribution of federal aid during the pandemic has shone a light on disparities in political power, too.
“If you have a lot of power in Washington, if you have lobbyists and all sorts of [political action committees] and lawyers who are working for you, chances are you get first in line. And that’s exactly what’s happened,” Reich told Jim Braude on WGBH News’ Greater Boston Wednesday.
Just 12 percent of black and Latino entrepreneurs who applied for aid have received what they asked for, according to a recent survey from the Global Strategy Group, on behalf of the organizations Color of Change and UnidosUS.
Reich also pointed to bailouts for large companies and access to unemployment benefits as evidence that the well-connected are faring better during the pandemic.
“Average workers and particularly people of color, they are not getting what they need,” he said. “They don’t have those connections, they don’t have that power in Washington, they don’t have the lobbyists, they don’t have the PACs and it’s business as usual, sadly.”
In fact, Reich argued, some major corporations are actually faring better during the pandemic.
“For years we have not used anti-trust laws to prevent companies like Amazon from accumulating huge power and all of the laws and all of the laws and all of the mechanisms of our market are tilted more and more in the direction of the big and profitable and against average workers,” he explained. “The result is you have a pandemic that not only hurts the poor, and hurts the middle class and the working class, but ends up rewarding America’s billionaires.”
Reich, who led the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within the Labor Department before he became secretary under President Bill Clinton, argued regulators weren’t doing enough to protect workers at those large companies, either.
“OSHA in those days was concerned about the safety and health of workers, that was the job of OSHA. These days, OSHA just basically couldn’t care less,” he said. “They’re not getting the protective equipment; they’re not getting the kind of safety and health regulations that they deserve in order to protect themselves and their families.”
But Reich warned that, while the systemic disparities may seem daunting, it’s dangerous to write off the possibility of reform.