Monday, September 21, 2020

Every Day is a Bad Day, Say a Rising Share of Americans [feedly]

Every Day is a Bad Day, Say a Rising Share of Americans

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) is a standardized phone survey about health-related behaviors, carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One question asks: "Now thinking about your mental health, whicjh includes stress, depression, and problems with emotions, for how many days during the past 30 days was your mental health not good?" 

David G. Blanchflower and Andrew J. Oswald focus on this question in "Trends in Extreme Distress in the United States, 1993–2019" (American Journal of Public Health, October 2020, pp. 1538-1544).  I particular, they focus on the share of people who answer that their mental health was not good for all 30 of the previous 30 days, who they categorize as in a condition of "extreme distress." Here are some patterns: 

This graph shows the overall and steady rise for men and women from 1993-2019. 

Here's a breakdown for a specific age group of those 35-54 years of age, with a simple breakdown by education and by ethnicity. 
This kind of survey evidence doesn't let a researcher test for causality, but it's possible to look at some correlations. The authors write: "Regression analysis revealed that (1) at the personal level, the strongest statistical predictor of extreme distress was `I am unable to work,' and (2) at the state level, a decline in the share of manufacturing jobs was a predictor of greater distress."

Of course, one doesn't want to overinterpret graphs like this. The measures on the left-hand axis are single-digit percentages, after all. But remember, these people are reporting that their mental health hasn't been good for a single day in the last month. The share has been steadily rising over time, through different economic and political conditions. In those pre-COVID days of 2019, 11% of the white, non-college population--call it one out of every nine in this group--reported this form of extreme distress. The implications for both public health and politics seem worth considering. 

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Uninsured Rate Rose in 2019; Income and Poverty Data Overtaken by Pandemic Recession [feedly]

Uninsured Rate Rose in 2019; Income and Poverty Data Overtaken by Pandemic Recession

Income rose and poverty declined in 2019, as would be expected in the peak year of a decade-long economic recovery, but the number of Americans without health insurance increased for the third consecutive year despite a growing economy.

"THE NUMBER OF AMERICANS WITHOUT HEALTH INSURANCE INCREASED FOR THE THIRD CONSECUTIVE YEAR DESPITE A GROWING ECONOMY."The rise in the share of Americans who were uninsured at the time of the Census Bureau survey — from 8.9 percent (28.6 million people) in 2018 to 9.2 percent (29.6 million people) in 2019 — likely reflects continued Administration actions that have reduced access to health insurance coverage. The data show a 0.7 percentage-point decline in health insurance among Hispanic individuals, driven by a large, 1.4 percentage-point drop in the share of Hispanic individuals with public coverage.

These health coverage data come from Census' American Community Survey (ACS), which was conducted before the pandemic hit. The income and poverty data, by contrast, come from the Current Population Survey (CPS), and their reliability is compromised because Census chiefly surveyed households for the CPS in March, as the pandemic was hitting. As Census noted in a paper released today, the pandemic and associated safety concerns forced it to stop in-person interviews and make other changes in collecting data, which sharply reduced response rates in the survey — especially among lower-income households. Census concluded that the increased non-response artificially boosted the income figures for 2019 and artificially lowered the poverty rate.[1]

Accordingly, Census issued adjusted figures for some limited points, including household median income and the overall poverty rate, to account for the biases the pandemic caused in the survey results. The adjusted Census numbers, which are much more reliable than the unadjusted numbers, show median household income climbing 4.1 percent in 2019 after adjusting for inflation, from $64,180 in 2018 to $66,790 in 2019.

The adjusted poverty numbers show the poverty rate falling from 11.9 percent in 2018 to 11.1 percent in 2019.

These data, however, bear little resemblance to conditions today, as the pandemic and recession have fundamentally altered the economic landscape. Households' circumstances differ sharply now from those reflected in the 2019 data.

Much more current Census Bureau data — from Census' Household Pulse survey, which since April has collected data on a weekly or bi-weekly basis — show that as of late August, more than 22 million adults were in households that lacked sufficient food the previous week and millions of renters had fallen behind on rent. And with millions of workers having lost their jobs and hence their employer-based health coverage, the ranks of the uninsured will likely increase.

These hardship data underscore the critical need for the nation's leaders to work out an agreement on strong new stimulus and relief measures before Congress adjourns later this month. It's particularly urgent to enact measures strengthening food and rental assistance, public health measures, state and local fiscal relief, and unemployment insurance, among other areas. Without such measures, poverty and hardship will likely worsen further in the months ahead.

Health Coverage in 2019

The uninsured rate rose from 8.9 percent in 2018 to 9.2 percent in 2019, according to the ACS. The ACS data were collected before the pandemic and so are unaffected by the March drop in response rates. Census noted in its written documents issued today (and explained on its press call) that these data give a more reliable picture of how health coverage changed in 2019 than the CPS. The ACS is also a larger survey and generally more suitable for measuring recent year-to-year changes in health insurance.

The increases in the uninsured rate in 2017, 2018, and 2019 followed six consecutive years of decline, the ACS data show — from 15.5 percent in 2010 to a historic low of 8.6 percent in 2016. But because of the increases after 2016, 2.3 million more Americans were uninsured in 2019 than in 2016, including more than 720,000 children.

The regression in the last three years came despite steady job growth that should have improved health coverage, and it likely reflects, in large part, the effects of Trump Administration policies that reduce access to coverage. For example, the Administration's policies toward immigrants, particularly its so-called "public charge" rule, have created a climate of fear among immigrants and their family members that discourages eligible people from enrolling in Medicaid or marketplace coverage. The new Census data show that groups disproportionately affected by these policies, including Hispanic adults, Hispanic children, and children who were not born in the United States, all saw much larger-than-average increases in uninsured rates.

To be sure, the uninsured rate in 2019 was still far below its level before enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But the ACA's remaining coverage gains will be in jeopardy if the Administration succeeds in its efforts to undo the law through the courts or legislation. Just last month the Administration filed its latest brief with the Supreme Court in its effort to overturn all of the ACA. That would add approximately 20 million people to the ranks of the uninsured, the Urban Institute estimated before the pandemic, and it would likely cause even larger coverage losses today since millions of people are turning to ACA coverage programs during the recession.

Income and Poverty in 2019

Median household income stood at $66,790 in 2019, about 4.1 percent above the inflation-adjusted 2018 level of $64,180, and 11.1 percent of Americans lived below the official poverty line, compared to 11.9 percent in 2018 — according to the Census data that correct for the impact of the pandemic on data collection in the CPS.

These improvements shouldn't be surprising, as 2019 was the tenth (and final) full year of a record-long economic recovery. As in most past "peak" recovery years, median income appears to have reached a new high in 2019. Median household income set new highs in 15 of the last 50 years, including more than 40 percent of non-recession years. The poverty rate fell in 2019 for the fifth straight year.

Although incomes clearly grew and poverty declined in 2019, a better assessment of changes in these areas in 2019 will require additional data, including detailed income and poverty findings from the ACS that are due out later this week. The ACS not only has a larger sample size than the CPS but also collected its 2019 data before the pandemic began. We expect its income and poverty data for 2019 to be the more reliable, in particular for the non-elderly population. (The 2019 ACS includes some wording changes that especially affect the elderly.)

2019 Economy Bears Little Resemblance to That of Today

Since the declaration on March 13 of a national coronavirus emergency, the nation has endured the deepest recession since the 1930s, fundamentally altering the economic landscape and making the 2019 findings an inaccurate gauge of current circumstances. The official unemployment rate, 3.5 percent in February, peaked above 14 percent in April and still exceeded 8 percent in August. Some 35 million people were either officially unemployed or lived with an unemployed family member in August, including 9 million children. This figure rises to 61 million workers and family members when one includes those not officially unemployed but nonetheless sidelined from the labor market, including workers with an unpaid absence from their job due to illness, caretaking responsibilities, or other reasons, as well as those who want a job but aren't actively seeking work given the state of the labor market and the risks the pandemic poses.[2]

Other data show sharp increases in various measures of hardship. Multiple studies have found that the number of households having difficulty affording food has soared during the crisis.[3] A July Brookings study found that "young children are experiencing food insecurity to an extent unprecedented in modern times,"[4] and more than 22 million adults — or more than 1 in 10 — reported in August that their household had "not enough to eat" sometimes or often in the last seven days. By comparison, fewer than 4 percent of adults reported experiencing this problem at any point in 2019, according to a CBPP analysis of a separate Census survey.[5]

In addition, millions of renters are behind on rent, and data suggest the number climbed higher over the summer.[6]

Adding to these concerns, the economic crisis and the pandemic appear to be hitting hardest those who already were struggling most to make ends meet. They include workers with no college education, who have lost their jobs at twice the national rate, and workers in low-paid industries, which have shed jobs at nearly three times the rate in high-paid industries. They also include Black and Latino individuals, many of whom work in low-paying jobs and entered the pandemic with limited household resources due to factors such as inadequate educational opportunities, employment discrimination, and other forms of racism.

Today's Census data show that in 2019, before the recession, Black and Hispanic individuals were more than twice as likely to be poor as non-Hispanic whites: 18.8 and 15.7 percent, respectively, versus 7.3 percent. (These data are not adjusted for the reporting bias described above, but similar disparities are also found in prior years.) And during the pandemic, employment levels have fallen more among Black and Latino workers than among non-Hispanic white workers. Data that Census collected in August as part of its Household Pulse survey show Black and Latino adults also are more likely to live in households that lack sufficient food.

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The World Is Losing the Money Laundering Fight [feedly]

The World Is Losing the Money Laundering Fight

We've just had the closest look yet at the global battle against money laundering, and it's deeply troubling: Banks and their regulators are nowhere near restraining the flow of trillions of dollars of illicit funds. 

Both the finance industry and the authorities are to blame. Without an urgent, concerted political effort, criminals — from drug dealers and terrorists to human traffickers — will keep the upper hand.

In a year-long investigation by BuzzFeed and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, reporters pored over about 2,100 suspicious activity reports, or SARs, which lenders file to the U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) when they spot potential money laundering and other bad behavior.

While the number of SARs reviewed by the journalists dwarfs any previous access to these confidential documents, they're still just a tiny fraction —  0.02% — of the 12 million or so SARs that were probably filed during the period in question, mostly 2011 through 2017. Also, the sample isn't representative of overall banking activity. Some records stem from the U.S. congressional investigation into interference with the 2016 presidential election. Almost half of the SARs came from Deutsche Bank AG.


Still, the sums and the patterns of failings are staggering. This small number of reports alone flagged up $2 trillion of fund flows, $1.3 trillion from Deutsche Bank, that may have stemmed from criminal activity. And the FinCEN Files are just the tip of the iceberg, as Transparency International put it. (The banks' responses to BuzzFeed are here.) 

The U.K., home to more than 600 companies flagged in the reports, appears to be the biggest hub for dodgy money flows, with the U.S. second. Britain clearly hasn't done enough to tighten laws against money launderers. A huge web of enablers, from lawyers to accountants and bankers, helps oil the wheels of illicit finance through London.

Banks, for their part, are too slow if not outright negligent in submitting SARs. More than a fifth of the documents included in the submissions related to subjects whose addresses weren't known to the banks, including companies with whom the lenders were already banking.


SARs, which should be filed within 60 days of detecting potential criminal activity, were sometimes submitted years later. According to the BuzzFeed/ICIJ report, that was allegedly the case with JPMorgan Chase & Co., which processed payments for Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign manager, after he resigned from the 2016 campaign amid money-laundering allegations. HSBC Holdings Plc kept moving money for an investment fund that was already under investigation over allegations it was a Ponzi scheme, the report says.

Alarmingly, banks often just rely on internet searches to find out who their clients are and only file suspicious reports after news breaks or formal investigations are launched. In the bundle of SARs reviewed by the reporters, the median filing time since the suspicious activity began was 166 days. Imagine how far those funds would have gone in half a year.

The reviewed SARs pertain to a period when many banks were already being investigated and punished for failing to adhere to money-laundering regulation. But the billions of dollars in fines levied against them haven't changed behavior much.


Having a bigger legal stick with which to whack errant bankers and other enablers would help. So too would a rethink of how money laundering is tackled by policy makers. Police forces and national regulators don't only struggle to cooperate across borders; even within some crime agencies, various units don't always share information.

Tom Kirchmaier, a policing and crime researcher at the London School of Economics, suggests a three-step solution. For starters, the SARs filings must be standardized. Far too much information is submitted in narratives that are impossible to scrutinize. FinCEN employs about 270 employees, receiving up to 2 million SARs every year. "We're still stuck in the 19th century," Switzerland's former top money-laundering cop Daniel Thelesklaf says of his nation's paper-based efforts.

Second, Kirchmaier calls for far more sharing of data between regulators and enforcers. In Europe, more than 50 authorities supervise money laundering and terror financing. The European Commission will propose an EU-level supervisor next year. That's long overdue.


Lastly, Kirchmaier says humans need to be removed from the process as far as possible. Crime agencies should be able to automate the screening of SARs and report back to banks, providing them with an assessment of the risk associated with a particular client, for example. And lenders ought to be able to stop transactions to flagged entities without so much human intervention.

A radical improvement in the fight against money laundering may not be possible overnight, but — as I've written before — the system isn't working. As the speed of payments accelerates and virtual currencies proliferate, criminals will find new ways to move money. Banks and their supervisors collectively need to do much, much better.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Elisa Martinuzzi is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering finance. She is a former managing editor for European finance at Bloomberg News.

For more articles like this, please visit us at

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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Xi Push to End Poverty Underpins Party Support in Rural China [feedly]

Xi Push to End Poverty Underpins Party Support in Rural China

Ending rural poverty is the key to ending rural idiocy, too, anywhere in the world. Bloomberg's interest in China, you may note, is fundamentally different from that off Bezos (The Washington  Post). -- a riddle in billionaire thinking that probably deserves more research and thought.

 Almost a year ago, 26-year-old Luoba Nijinmo moved her family into a brand-new housing estate called "Gratitude Community" in southwest China -- her last step to being officially lifted out of poverty.

The mother of two is among about 10 million people who have been resettled in government-built housing since 2016, part of President Xi Jinping's promise to eradicate extreme rural poverty -- those who earn less than 11 yuan ($1.63) per day -- by the end of this year. He's getting close: Official data show the number of extremely poor rural residents fell to 5.5 million last year from almost 56 million in 2015.

"It's so much better now," Luoba told a foreign reporter this month on a government-organized trip to showcase China's poverty alleviation efforts in Sichuan province. "Living on the mountains, it was inconvenient for the kids to go to school. On rainy days, it was scary because the houses were so old."

China is likely to announce the completion of Xi's goal soon, ahead of next year's 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party's founding. In March, he said the party made a "solemn promise" to end poverty and that "must be met as scheduled, without retreat and without flexibility."

Extreme Drop in Poverty

Source: National Bureau of Statistics

Success will help Xi show the public that the Communist Party is delivering concrete economic gains, which is crucial to maintaining the legitimacy of its one-party rule. It also marks a milestone for China's development after officials embraced market-oriented reforms in the wake of Mao Zedong's tumultuous rule marked by slow growth and famine, propelling its rise to become the world's second-biggest economy.

"Internationally, poverty eradication is one of the most frequently mentioned great achievements when people talk about the changes during China's post-Mao reforms," said Wenfang Tang, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "This is one of Xi's signature projects that will boost public support."

While China suppresses political dissent that could threaten the party's rule, surveys show that improving public services boosts support for the government, especially in rural regions. Groups from poorer, inland regions were comparably more likely to report increases in satisfaction in the government, according to a study by scholars at Harvard University's Ash Center, which tracked public support from 2003 to 2016.

Read more: China's Recovery Threatened by Surging Prices, Stagnant Wages

Still, Xi faces a more immediate problem after the pandemic left millions of migrant workers without a job. While the economy is now recovering, consumption is still well below where it was in 2019 and the rebound likely hasn't replaced lost income for many in rural poor areas.

Earlier this year, Premier Li Keqiang set off a nationwide debate on poverty alleviation when he reminded the public that two-fifths of China's population earned just 1,000 yuan a month on average. "It's not even enough to rent a room in a medium-sized Chinese city," he said during the annual national parliament meeting in May.

Those in urban slums aren't included in China's poverty statistics, and the government's focus on absolute poverty means it ignores a lot of people who are just relatively poor.

"It's the near poor who are affected more by the economic hits this year as a result of the coronavirus and the floods," said Gao Qin, a professor at Columbia University who wrote a book about poverty in China. "These are the people who I would worry more about because they face many similar challenges but don't get the same government support as those below the poverty line."


Aerial view of the poverty alleviation relocation sites in Sichuan province, on Aug. 29.

Photographer: Imaginechina via AP Photo

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development defines anyone with income less than half the median as being poor. Using that standard, people in rural areas would need to earn above 7,000 yuan a year in China to escape poverty, as the median rural per capita income was 14,389 yuan last year. China's rural poverty target, however, is still well above the absolute poverty line of the World Bank.

In addition to having sufficient income, China also doesn't consider people to be out of poverty until they have enough food and clothing, guaranteed basic healthcare, access to compulsory education and safe housing. To achieve that, China has mobilized more than 3 million party cadres and bureaucrats from across government and public institutions to help people meet those requirements.

In Sichuan, Liu Wansi is one of those officials who helps residents adjust to their new life. As deputy secretary of the local township party committee for overseeing residential projects such as Gratitude Community, he manages a meticulous log of each household's income and expenditures as well as their changing living standards.

Read more: Chinese Village Xi Transformed Still Angry Over Inequality

The compound, which cost 420 million yuan to build, houses more than 6,000 people from 38 different ethnic Yi villages. Banners remind residents to be thankful to the party, Xi quotes are plastered on the side of the apartment buildings, and his portrait hangs in each of the more than 1,400 apartments.

Each household owns the apartments after a contribution of 10,000 yuan -- usually accumulated through family and friends, savings or government subsidies. Local officials also run job-training programs and reward them for positive behavior: One of them gives points for picking up the trash, returning lost items or helping to resolve conflicts that can be redeemed for rice or laundry detergent.

Officials also work to root out what they consider to be outdated thinking and customs. "Red White Executive Councils," named after the colors worn at weddings and funerals, seek to control spending at major ceremonies. In Sichuan's Liangshan prefecture, betrothal gifts are capped at 60,000 yuan and no more than two cows should be killed to feed funeral banquets.

China Poverty

A woman looks at the photos showing rural poverty alleviation schemes across the Sichuan province, on Sept. 9.

Photographer: Andy Wong/AP Photo

There's been some problems with the program. In 2018, the last full year for which data are available, 177,000 people were punished in poverty alleviation-related corruption cases, according to the party's anti-graft watchdog. Villagers have also complained about an unequal distribution of funds, and relatively well-off residents gaming the system to gain some of the program's benefits.

Still, the program has been lauded by millions of people like Luoba. Her husband took a job last month harvesting potatoes about 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) away in Hebei province that nets him around 150 yuan a day, which over the course of a year would be about three times more than the official poverty line.

"Top-down mobilization propels the whole bureaucracy to meet Xi's mandate -- eradicating poverty -- at any cost," said Yuen Yuen Ang, associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan and author of How China Escaped the Poverty Trap. "Its strength is also its weakness. Results will look impressive because they must, but if extreme measures are used to achieve them, they bring unintended problems down the road."

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U.S. Is Falling Further Behind Rivals in Meat-Worker Safety [feedly]

U.S. Is Falling Further Behind Rivals in Meat-Worker Safety

from Bloomberg -- meat prices Will continue to rise, a consequence of US style "unemployment-will-take-care-of-labor-shortage-from-worker-deaths", or, "the hungry, sick, dog works harder". --  ideas also popular with the Nazis ---  and numerous feudal regimes, til the Black Death wiped them out.

The U.S. government is falling behind global rivals when it comes to protecting meatpacking workers from Covid-19 infections, even though the nation's plants were among the first to confront rampant cases across factories.

In Germany, the government is ready to upend a labor contracting system that left poorly paid immigrant workers vulnerable. Australia's second-most populous state, Victoria, slashed slaughterhouse staffing capacity to enforce strict spacing requirements. In Brazil, the federal government has set safety rules, though unions have said they're not strong enough.

Pork Processing At A Smithfield Foods Plant

Employees remove internal organs from pigs at a meat processing facility in the U.S.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Meanwhile, the U.S. has yet to impose any mandatory safety measures on meatpackers to contain infections, issuing just voluntary guidelines. And the only federal citations against major meat processors resulted in fines of less than $16,000, decried as paltry by worker advocates. At the same time, an executive order from Donald Trump has kept plants running at full tilt since late April.

The U.S. response "has been a mess," said James Ritchie, assistant general secretary of the Geneva-based International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations.

Trump's order has been "downright dangerous" since it didn't come with any U.S. federal agency issuing enforceable safety rules, Ritchie said.

World's Top Meat Suppliers

Nations including the U.S. and Brazil rank among the world's top shippers

Source: USDA forecasts for 2020 exports

Coronavirus infections spread rapidly among U.S. meat workers in March and April, prompting major facilities to shutter before Trump issued the order to keep them open. Since then, it's been unclear how widely the virus is still impacting workers because many companies aren't publicly disclosing new cases. A tabulation of local news reports by the Food & Environment Reporting Network totaled at least 42,606 confirmed Covid cases and 203 related deaths among meatpacking workers through Friday.

Evidence points to the virus spreading by air, with an initial study in Germany showing particles can jump more than 8 meters (26 feet) in slaughterhouses where cold temperatures and poor ventilation put workers at risk. To protect employees, Ritchie said there should be a universal slowing of production lines.

Virus Can Travel 26 Feet at Cold Meat Plants With Stale Air

While companies took their own safety measures, including installing plexiglass barriers and issuing protective equipment, the American federal government never stepped in to create enforceable protocols. This month, U.S. regulators issued their first sanctions against meatpackers in connection with outbreaks. Smithfield Foods Inc. was fined $13,494 and JBS SA was issued a penalty of $15,615, drawing outrage from two senators, a former safety official and a major national union as being inadequate.

The next litmus test for how well the virus is being controlled at American meat plants is likely to come over the next few months as the weather turns colder, which could help infections to spread more quickly and the period will also coincide with the annual flu epidemic that sweeps the northern hemisphere.

In contrast to the U.S., German and Australian regulators intervened with stronger measures for meat workers even though the nations were dealing with smaller outbreaks. Germany's Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner is even calling for higher food prices to ease cost pressures on producers.

"We are currently experiencing a momentum, an opportunity to readjust the meat industry," Kloeckner said in emailed comments to Bloomberg. "That is what we are tackling."

Here's a look at how global policies are taking shape:


It's possible the U.S. may yet impose additional safety regulations as Congressional leaders haggle over a broad coronavirus relief package. A version the Democratic-controlled House passed in May would require an emergency temporary regulation requiring safety measures to reduce the spread of Covid in workplaces, including meat plants. Senate Republicans have resisted the step and GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is instead seeking to include a provision granting immunity to businesses for virus-related legal claims.

Meat and poultry companies have "voluntarily enacted government recommendations and more to protect employees," the North American Meat Institute said in an emailed statement.

Operations At Smithfield\'s Milan Plant

Butchers place pork ribs on a conveyor belt at a meat processing facility in the U.S.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Labor unions' lobbying efforts to include mandatory Covid safety measures are "an uphill battle" said Rebecca Reindel, occupational safety and health director for the AFL-CIO.

U.S. Meat Plants Are Deadly as Ever, With No Incentive to Change

Efforts to win better safety regulations are hampered because the employees are often minorities and immigrants who, unlike other high-risk workers such as doctors and hospital staff, labor out of sight of consumers.

"They face a lot of barriers," Reindel said. "You have a lot of workers of color. You have a lot of immigrant workers. You have a lot that don't know their safety and health rights."

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that's part of the Department of Labor and has the power to regulate conditions in meat plants, is committed to protecting America's workers during the pandemic, a department spokesperson said in an emailed response, which cited the voluntary safety guidelines the agency has issued. The agency also continues to respond to and investigate complaints it receives.


In Germany, a Covid outbreak at a slaughterhouse infected 1,500 workers and shuttered the facility for a month from mid-June. That seized attention across the continent and accelerated a move by politicians to crack down on poor work conditions. The industry's production lines rely largely on subcontracted staff from eastern Europe, a practice the government is now moving to end, said Johannes Specht, head of collective bargaining at Germany's NGG union.

The German cabinet in late July approved a bill to ban temporary employees at meat plants.

Top Pork Exporters

The EU is forecast to account for a third of global trade this year

Source: USDA estimates

The new bill to end subcontract workers will give "clear responsibility instead of cascades of shadow companies," said Kloeckner, the ag minister.

She also wants to move from a system with a few, large centralized processors and promote smaller, regional slaughterhouses and butchers. Higher meat prices could allow for improved conditions in animal stables, shorten transport times to processors and allow for fair working conditions and sustainable farmer incomes, she said.


Australia's Victoria state has been hardest hit by a fresh wave of virus cases, leading to a strict months-long lockdown for its more than 5 million residents.

Meat plants have been the source of some of the state's biggest virus clusters and more than half a dozen facilities have been forced to shutter temporarily. The state government in August slashed slaughterhouses' and processors' staffing capacity and enforced strict spacing, hygiene and health check measures, as part of the broader restrictions to curb community transmission.

Operations Inside Bindaree Beef Ltd. As China's Money Could Help Kill Two Cows Every Minute in Australia

A worker moves cattle carcasses from the cold room to the boning room at a meat processing facility in Australia.

Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

Meat giant JBS shuttered the state's biggest processing facility until community transmission is under control, saying it could not operate in the current environment.

The state government also provided payments to workers who had to miss shifts to isolate after a coronavirus test, and for those who had to take time off following a positive test, if they had no access to paid leave.


In Brazil, the world´s largest chicken and beef exporter, the federal government set mandates for safety measures, including establishing a minimum distance of 1 meter (3.3 feet) between workers, or less if employees are provided with enough protective gear.

While that's still more strict than the U.S., which has only the voluntary guidlines, Brazilian labor leaders have said the country's measures are still insufficient to ensure employee safety. Unions in the nation have estimated, based on surveys with local members, that about 20% of Brazilian meat workers, or roughly 100,000 people, have been infected with Covid-19.

Some local governments, including chicken and pork production hubs such as Rio Grande do Sul and Parana states, have set their own guidelines for meat plants during the pandemic, with higher standards compared with the federal rules. But others states, including the top beef producer Mato Grosso, haven't published any resolution, which leave the national guidelines as the only protocols.

In many places, "slaughterhouses have the government's approval to work without prioritizing employee safety," said Artur Bueno, head of the national labor union CNTA, which represents workers from the food industry.

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