Welcome to Summer 2021! Looking back one year ago, we were entering the last week of Phase 3 with Phase 4 beginning on June 26. So we spent almost one year in Phase 4 with back-and-forth mitigations. It is a nice feeling to be in Phase 5 now with a full reopening.
With that said, we have talked with one of our chamber members, KODO CARE, about offering vaccines to companies that would like to set up a vaccine day or program for their employees. If you are interested in finding out more details, please contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can then get you in touch with our member provider.
Quick reminder for this week, we have a Legislative Coffee presented by CITGO this upcoming Thursday, June 24 at 8:30 AM. We’ll be talking about outcomes of the most recent session in Springfield with Senators John Connor and Meg Loughran Cappel, as well as Representatives Natalie Manley, Larry Walsh, Jr., and Mark Batinick. See at the end for more info and a link.
Today’s update below has information about the continuance of infrastructure and overall spending plans on the federal level, Governor Pritzker signs off on election package, Illinois hits the 70% mark, and the labor market.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Infrastructure Talks Have Not Gone Away
It is a big week for infrastructure talks – sounds like we’ve heard this before, right? This may be just the latest on what we’ve already been through, but it is nearing that do-or-die moment now that we are in appropriations season and have multiple recesses on the horizon and some key voices weighed in on the Sunday shows, highlighting the ticking time bomb on infrastructure.
One big hang-up: Pay-fors, including the gas tax, which the White House fiercely came out against last week. Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) — the top Democrat and Republican on the House Problem Solvers Caucus (PSC), respectively — told CNN yesterday that they have hope a bipartisan proposal can get passed, even if it means some of their colleagues peel off or aren’t totally in love with it.
Fitzpatrick argued it doesn’t have to be a perfect bill, with a description similar to how some would sell their cooking skills: “Nobody will be totally in love with the plan, but people will be able to swallow it down.” As for pay-fors, he argued, all possibilities to pay for the package should be considered, including a gas tax. So this will need to be ironed out. Speaking of, the PSC talked Friday morning about infrastructure. And they are still in conversations about potentially endorsing the plan.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a more blunt message for President Joe Biden: “President Biden, if you want an infrastructure deal of a trillion dollars, it’s there for the taking. You just need to get involved and lead,” he said on “FOX News Sunday.” “I think the difference between this negotiation and the earlier negotiation is we’re willing to add more money to infrastructure in this package. And I am hopeful that if the White House and Joe Biden stay involved, we can get there.”
These remarks come as Senate Democrats are considering pushing a $6 trillion infrastructure-and-other package through the reconciliation process if the bipartisan talks in the Senate flop.
Key questions: Is this tough red-line rhetoric from liberals a negotiating tactic or a serious pledge that progressives will sink the bipartisan proposal if key priorities of theirs are not included? Will Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) support reconciliation passage of a second package? Finally, will the support — or lack thereof — from progressives on the first bill impact Manchin and Co.’s position on reconciliation?
President Biden has not said whether he will support the $974 billion bipartisan infrastructure package negotiated by 10 Democratic and Republican senators. So what is the White House waiting for? White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden is waiting to see more details of the bipartisan infrastructure package before deciding if he will endorse it.
Eyeing One Big Economic Bill, Democrats Face Myriad Challenges
The far-reaching economic package Democrats are assembling as a companion to whatever emerges from bipartisan infrastructure talks is itself a precarious proposition, facing steep obstacles because of its sheer size and scope in a party whose congressional majorities have little room for dissent.
The contours, which Senate Democrats have just started to sketch out, reflect a deep desire to deliver on ambitious campaign promises, accomplish major policy goals long frustrated by Republican opposition and avoid what many of them see as the pitfalls of 2009, when Democrats in power narrowed their domestic ambitions to win conservative votes that never fully materialized.
But the package, which Democrats said this week could cost up to $6 trillion, faces major challenges, including resistance among moderates wary of so much federal spending. Senate rules also strictly limit what Democrats can accomplish if they want to steer clear of a filibuster using the fast-track budget reconciliation process, which would be its only path through a Senate divided 50 to 50.
The process promises to be far more challenging than the one that led to the enactment, just two months into President Biden’s tenure, of his nearly $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, which passed over Republican opposition with the support of all but one Democrat.
In this case, liberal Democrats are placing many of their domestic policy hopes into what is shaping up as a single, extraordinarily ambitious package that many regard as their only remaining chance to accomplish key priorities this year.
They have watched with alarm as a group of Republicans and Democrats hashes out a potential compromise that covers only traditional physical infrastructure and omits many of their marquee goals and are determined to use their majorities to fashion a plan more reflective of their desires.
It began taking shape this week, as Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, convened Democrats on the Budget Committee to discuss potential measures including climate change provisions, caregiving subsidies, paid leave, tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations, Medicare expansion and legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants.
“It’s not so much about debating one number,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democrat who has pushed for a sweeping package. “It’s about what does it take to get the work done — and $6 trillion sounds about right.” Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is chairman of the Budget Committee, “started with the question of what needs to be covered and how much does it cost realistically to get there,” she added.
But lawmakers and aides acknowledge that it is unlikely that Democrats will have the votes for all those ambitions, given that nearly all House Democrats and all 50 senators who caucus with Democrats would have to support it to overcome Republican opposition. On Monday, five House Democrats wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California warning about the fiscal consequences of a huge spending measure, calling for Congress to pass a budget blueprint that “stabilizes the debt as a share of the economy” before taking up spending or tax legislation.
“As we continue to have a national conversation about major infrastructure spending and necessary investments to support hardworking American families, we believe it is critical that we do so responsibly and take meaningful steps to get our fiscal house in order,” the lawmakers wrote. Any reconciliation measure would be subject to strict rules that would most likely force changes or the outright elimination of certain provisions if they are deemed unrelated to federal revenue. Aides and advocacy groups are working to ensure that such measures, particularly those addressing climate change, can remain in the bill.
The Biden administration has called for a national network of charging stations for electric vehicles and consumer rebates to pivot consumers away from combustion engines; tax incentives to drive solar, wind and other clean energy development; and a standard that would require power companies to increase the amount of clean electricity they generate over time until they eventually stop burning fossil fuels.
But the politics could prove tricky: Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, where coal dominates the economy, has expressed skepticism about a clean electricity mandate. A crucial player in the talks on a bipartisan infrastructure package, Mr. Manchin has also declined to publicly commit to supporting the reconciliation package as he works with other Democrats and Republicans to hammer out the details of a far more limited compromise plan totaling $1.2 trillion over eight years, with $579 billion of that in new spending.
Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, another key centrist Democrat, has also declined to say whether she would support a separate reconciliation measure, even as liberals warn that they will not accept the compromise bill without receiving assurances that a reconciliation package would then have the support needed to also pass. A spokesman said Ms. Sinema would consider any idea to strengthen Arizona’s economy, without explicitly addressing the process.
That has led to a complex and freighted dynamic for Democrats on Capitol Hill, in which the discussions around what should be in the reconciliation package hinge in part on the outcome of the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations, and vice versa. For now, it is unclear whether the White House and enough congressional Democrats will sign off on the emerging bipartisan proposal to ensure its passage.
The White House issued a statement on Friday reiterating that Mr. Biden would not support raising the gas tax, after the bipartisan group spent days weighing whether to include a provision indexing the gas tax to inflation.
“The president has been clear throughout these negotiations: He is adamantly opposed to raising taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year,” said Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman. “After the extraordinarily hard times that ordinary Americans endured in 2020 — job losses, shrinking incomes, squeezed budgets — he is simply not going to allow Congress to raise taxes on those who suffered the most.”
As an alternative, White House officials are discussing raising more revenue by giving the I.R.S. more resources than previously discussed by the bipartisan group to crack down on wealthy corporations and individuals that are not paying the taxes they owe. It is unclear how and when the centrist group will ultimately agree to finance its plan. As for the reconciliation package, Democrats have said they plan to include as much as $2.5 trillion in tax increases. But first they would have to find the votes to do so.
Governor Pritzker Signs Election Package – 2022 Primary to June, Curbside and Mail-in Voting
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Thursday an election package that moves next year’s March 15 primary to June 28, makes the general election day in November a state holiday and allows voters to permanently cast ballots by mail.
In signing the elections bill, Pritzker painted the new law as a sharp contrast to efforts in other states to curtail voting rights. “With attacks on voting rights on the rise in states across the nation, Illinois is proud to stand up for a strong, secure, and accessible democracy,” Pritzker said in a statement.
The new law builds off election changes imposed during the pandemic. It makes curbside voting permanent and sets up voting centers on Election Day where anyone within the election’s jurisdiction can vote, regardless of the precinct of their residence.
The measure also would make the general election date of Nov. 8, 2022, a state and school holiday. The general election last year also was designated a state holiday, making it easier to use school buildings as polling places without having to deal with student security.
Democrats sought the primary date change as they await federal census data that isn’t expected until mid-August to draw new congressional boundaries. Actual census figures were delayed due to the pandemic and unsuccessful attempts by the Trump administration to keep noncitizens out of the count.
Waiting for the hard census data for the new congressional boundaries runs up against the late August date when March primary candidates would have begun circulating their petitions. Under the new law, candidates can begin circulating petitions on Jan. 13 and would file them with the State Board of Elections between March 7 and 14.
Election authorities will send out a notice of the availability of vote-by-mail applications as well as a new registry allowing people to permanently vote by mail. People who move or die would be removed from lists based on address data and death certificates.
The measure also allows county sheriffs statewide to set up polling places in their jails for people who are awaiting trial and have not been convicted, similar to what Cook County already does. In addition, due to a previous hacking of the Illinois State Board of Elections, the law requires the state’s 108 election authorities — primarily county clerks and boards of election — to conduct monthly vulnerability risk scanning.
Illinois Hits 70% Mark for Adult COVID-19 Vaccinations
Illinois officially met President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of all adults receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Friday.
The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 6,902,180 people aged 18 and over had received at least one shot of the vaccine — meeting the 70% mark exactly. IDPH also reported 5,310,945 people were fully vaccinated — representing 53.9% of the population.
Illinois is now the 14th state, plus the District of Columbia, to meet Biden’s goal and the first one in the Midwest to do so. Overall, the state has provided 12,158,530 doses of the vaccine, with 5,902,462 people having been fully vaccinated — representing 46.33% of the population.
That success in vaccination has allowed for a significant decrease in caseloads, with case positivity rates hitting new lows into Father’s Day weekend. IDPH reported just 102 cases Friday, the lowest number of daily cases since March 18, 2020. For the week, Illinois reported 928 new cases with 65 deaths. The positivity rate declined to 0.8%, with the rate as a percentage of tests dropping to 0.6%, both new lows.
Is the Tight Labor Market Returning the Upper Hand to American Workers
Low-wage workers found something unexpected in the economy’s recovery from the pandemic: leverage. Ballooning job openings in fields requiring minimal education—including in restaurants, transportation, warehousing and manufacturing—combined with a shrinking labor force are giving low-wage workers perks previously reserved for white-collar employees. That often means bonuses, bigger raises and competing offers.
Average weekly wages in leisure and hospitality, the sector that suffered the steepest job losses in 2020, were up 10.4% in May from February 2020, Labor Department data show, outpacing the private sector overall and inflation. Pay for those with only high school diplomas is rising faster than for college graduates, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
“It’s a workers’ labor market right now and increasingly so for blue-collar workers,” said Becky Frankiewicz, president of staffing firm ManpowerGroup Inc.’s North America operations. “We have plenty of demand and not enough workers.”
Lower-wage employers are boosting pay and offering gift cards to applicants who show up for interviews, along with sign-on and retention bonuses, and sometimes immediate employment before drug screenings and background checks, she said.
While benefiting workers, higher labor costs can have consequences for employers in the form of narrower profit margins and missed sales if a restaurant section remains closed or orders can’t be filled quickly because of a staffing shortage. And when they do raise wages, employers are attempting to pass some of the higher costs on to customers, which could be contributing to the current upsurge of inflation. All those factors act as a potential brake on what is expected to be rapid economic growth in the second half of 2021.
Low-wage workers’ newfound leverage could have staying power—and, in fact, began to emerge before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic pushed some Americans into retirement and convinced others they should return to work only for more pay or improved conditions. Raises that increase base pay to attract workers now will be tough to roll back later, employers and economists say.
Although that bargaining power may be nearing a peak and begin to ease once pandemic-era benefits expire, many economists expect the labor market to remain tight for the foreseeable future.
“There are not a lot of unemployed workers out there for firms to be trying to hire,” said Matt Notowidigdo, an economist at the University of Chicago. That’s far different than after the 2007-2009 recession, when less-educated workers faced an elevated unemployment rate for several years, he said.
Some of the deterrents to work may reverse once the economy fully reopens. Nearly 15 million people claimed unemployment insurance benefits in late May, up from about 2 million before the pandemic. Some may not be working because they receive more from the enhanced unemployment benefits offered during the crisis than they would earn in the available jobs. But those benefits expire in September. Other people out of the workforce fear catching or spreading the virus, worries that should ease as infections decline and vaccination rates rise.
If lower-wage workers can retain the upper hand, it would have little modern precedent, harking back a half-century to when many more of those employees were represented by labor unions. It could also spell tougher times for small firms unable to match what bigger more productive companies can pay, such as the nation’s two largest private-sector employers, Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc.
The shift in fortunes for low-wage workers marks a reversal after decades of lost ground. Wages and benefits averaged 72% of national income, excluding indirect taxes and subsidies, from 1970 through 1995 and then steadily declined, falling to 66% by 2014.
The combination of the reopening economy, several rounds of fiscal stimulus and near-zero interest rates could soon recreate the tight labor market conditions that bolstered pay in 2019. Last week, Federal Reserve officials predicted the unemployment rate would fall to 3.5% by the end of 2023, matching its pre-pandemic lows.
Whereas demand for labor drove wage gains in 2019, now both demand and a smaller pool of workers are at play. The share of the working-age population either holding or seeking a job has fallen to 61.6% in May from 63.3% in February 2020—a loss of 3.5 million potential employees. This may have raised what economists call the “reservation” wage, the lowest pay for which someone is willing to work. Workers without a college degree have increased their annual reservation wage to $61,000 from $52,000 in late 2019, according to surveys by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The political climate may also be shifting in ways likely to support the bargaining power of low-wage workers, a priority of President Biden’s. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan he signed into law in March was intended in part to get the U.S. to full employment faster. In Cleveland last month, Mr. Biden said: “Instead of workers competing with each other for jobs that are scarce…we want the companies to compete to attract workers.”
Republicans argue that stimulus added unnecessarily to the deficit at a time when the economy was already recovering. Their resistance also stands in the way of Democrats’ efforts to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from $7.25. President Biden may find some common ground with Republicans who, since Donald Trump’s presidency, have become less enamored of free trade and other traditional business priorities. The Biden administration has already brought a complaint related to the treatment of workers and unions in Mexico under the provisions of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which Mr. Trump negotiated with significant input from Democrats.
Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information
|Special Presentation: Small Business Compliance with Department of Labor
Did you know that most employees in the U.S. are covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? As an employer, are you aware of and meeting your obligations?
The chamber recently joined with Andres Mendez, a Benefits Advisor with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage & Hour Division and the Employee Benefits Security Administration for an overview of the COBRA premium assistance under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, federal wage and hour laws, and how they are enforced.
Click here to view the special presentation: https://youtu.be/n5tWXm1BDyE
Connect with the Workforce Center
Visit the Workforce Center of Will County’s web page for more information about the programs, services, and activities available for Will County businesses and residents.
Small Business Tax Credit Programs
Small Disadvantaged Business Contracting Goal News
On June 1, 2021, the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Biden-Harris Administration announced new steps to help narrow the racial wealth gap and reinvest in communities that have been left behind by failed policies. Specifically, the Administration is expanding access to two key wealth-creators – small business ownership and homeownership – in communities of color and disadvantaged communities.
Federal Contracting Webinar Series
Do you need help with federal contracting? The ChallengeHER webinar series offers education and training on the federal contracting system. Below is a list of upcoming webinars.
Finally, here is the registration information for the Legislative Coffee on Thursday, June 24 at 8:30 AM. We’ll be meeting with Senator Connor, Senator Loughran Cappel, Representative Manley, Representative Walsh Jr., and Representative Batinick. Join us to hear about a variety of topics. More info and registration here: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-legislative-coffee-series-june-24-with-local-elected-officials-6073
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry