As the outbreak of the novel coronavirus shutters small businesses across the country, the number of jobless claims has skyrocketed from 70,000 last week to 281,000 Friday, and could spike as high as 2.25 million by next Thursday, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs. The sudden economic downturn has sent legislators on all sides of the aisle scrambling for stimulus packages to offset the damage. The GOP offered a $1,200 tax rebate; Chuck Schumer discussed expansions to unemployment insurance, sick leave, and low-interest loans; Bernie Sanders proposed sending $2,000 to every American household for the duration of the crisis. One economist told CNN Business that job loss in April could surpass the worst month of the Great Recession, when 800,000 jobs disappeared in March of 2009, comparing it to a repeat of the Great Depression.
On Monday, PBS will air a new documentary titled East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story, from filmmakers Sarah Burns and David McMahon and executive producer Ken Burns. The film tells the story of East Lake Meadows, a housing complex located on the outskirts of Atlanta which fell into “criminally negligent” disrepair after the local and federal government neglected its low-income and overwhelmingly black residents—and the complicated legacy of trying to redress that damage. But it also tells a larger story about the history of public housing in the United States—a system which began as a way to help the white working poor ascend to the middle class as the country struggled against the kind of economic slump the country may find itself in again.
In advance of the release, Ken Burns, the documentarian behind The Civil War, Jazz, The Vietnam War, and Country Music, spoke to The Daily Beast about the parallels between that moment and now, and what we might take from East Lake Meadows in a moment when housing assistance may become more critical than ever.
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