#68 — Mckayla Wilkes (U.S. House)


Hello! And welcome to another edition of Inside The Newsroom. Today we have a very special guest from Maryland’s 5th district, Democratic candidate for U.S. House Mckayla Wilkes, who’s taking on fellow Democrat Steny Hoyer, with the vote currently scheduled for June 2. Mckayla and I talked about the federal government’s response to the coronavirus, which now sees 143,055 cases and 2,510 deaths in the U.S. We went through Universal Basic Income, Medicare For All and the U.S.’s draconian ‘At-Will’ employment law that allows employers to fire workers for any reason, at any time. Before we get to the rundown of everything we talked about, I want to thank Nancy Krempa for reading and supporting the newsletter over the past five months. Comments like this are why I do what I do. Enjoy ✊

Picks of the Week…

  1. Boris Johnson Tests Positive — The UK prime minister is self-isolating after testing positive for the coronavirus. Two weeks ago he told the world he’d been shaking hands with hospitalized virus patients.

  2. China Reopening — Wuhan has begun to reopen after more than two months in lockdown.

  3. 40 Classic Sports Games — The Ringer have put together a list of the greatest sports games to revisit.

Mckayla 👇

Who Are Mckayla Wilkes and Steny Hoyer?

Mckayla was born in Washington D.C. to a single mother, her father unexpectedly passing away just months before she was born, and now resides in Waldorf, Maryland with her two children. Mckayla’s battle with asthma means she knows all too well about the anxiety and panic millions of Americans face every single day by not being able to afford health insurance to pay for the abhorrent costs of the U.S. healthcare system. It’s part of the reason why she’s running on a platform that includes Medicare For All and Universal Basic Income, two measures that would help ease the financial and medical pain millions of Americans not only feel today, but every day.

Mckayla's BuzzFeed Profile

In 63 days time, the people of Maryland’s 5th district will go to the polls to decide between Mckayla and her 80-year-old opponent Steny Hoyer, majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives and one of the most powerful Democrats in the country. Hoyer has represented the 5th district for 40 years and is seeking re-election for his 21st term. When it comes to the issues, he’s an advocate for strengthening Obamacare, a backer of Wall Street and has received millions in donations from corporations. The gap between the two candidates could not be wider.

Coronavirus in Maryland

As we detailed in Friday’s newsletter, governor Larry Hogan has instituted a shelter-in-place order, and only essential businesses continue to have physically present personnel. Gatherings of over 50 are suspended. Hogan recently said that he sees no way how things will be able to be opened back up within the next two weeks, at least. There are now 1,239 confirmed cases in the state, including 15 deaths.

Coronavirus Maryland Updates

The Case For UBI

Universal Basic Income has been around for as long as time. It’s essentially a guaranteed income of the same amount to everyone and has repeatedly gained popularity in times of mass economic transformation and stress. Modern day welfare systems emerged out of the Great Depression and Second World War.

History of UBI

Financial relief packages governments around the world have signed over the past month have all been forms of UBI born out of another global emergency, though it’s unclear whether these bailouts will be frequent or one-offs. But what many people forget, or simply don’t know, is that, like healthcare, millions of people face emergencies every single day from not having enough money, sometimes working two or three jobs just to cover the bills. I didn’t know at the time, but my own mother told me recently that she was one of those people who worked three jobs just to make sure my brother and I didn’t go without anything growing up. She worked as a sales assistant for two different estate agents during the day, made sure dinner was cooked and on the table, and then cleaned a car showroom at night. God bless her.

UBI isn’t that simple, though, especially for prolonged periods, and unlike universal healthcare, UBI’s track record isn’t as deep nor as proven. The largest case of UBI in the U.S. is in Alaska, where the state-owned Alaska Permanent Fund has been around since 1982, and pays every Alaskan woman, man and child an annual dividend based on the fruits of the state’s resources, mainly oil. When oil prices were sky high in 2015, every resident received a one-off payment of $2,072, and in less glamorous years like 2020, the dividend is closer to $1,000.

Another large UBI project took place in Finland between January 2017 and December 2018, where 2,000 unemployed Finns received a monthly no-strings-attached payment of €560 (£490; $634). Now, this is obviously a teeny eeny weeny sample size, but the results were mixed. While researchers found participants’ desire to find employment stayed relatively the same, their happiness and stress levels all improved dramatically. Ultimately, UBI is successful depending on what you’re looking to get out of it.

Now, $2,000 a year or €560 a month is clearly not enough to live on, but there are fascinating results that we can take and use for the future. It seems as though the world isn’t sold on UBI as an indefinite policy, but maybe more people will be sold once they read about America’s draconian ‘At-Will’ employment laws…

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At-Will Employment

I was having a conversation with a friend from California the other day about how she thought I was joking when I told her the standard notice period in the UK is one month, with some contracts mandating even longer if you’ve spent several years with a company. When I heard Mckayla describe Maryland’s At-Will employment laws, I thought she was joking. Turns out she wasn’t, and at-will employment is no joke.

According to Maryland’s Department of Labor:

Employees work “at the will” of their employers. This means, in the absence of an express contract, agreement or policy to the contrary, an employee may be hired or fired for almost any reason — whether fair or not — or for no reason at all.”

The exceptions saving employees are few and far between, but include not being be able to be fired because of discrimination. No lawsuits can be filed against employers for lost wages or unfair dismissal, and turns out that most if not all states are covered by such laws, or rather the lack of them. It’s just one of the litany of reasons why the U.S. has been so unprepared to fight the spread of the virus that could end up infecting millions.


What’s in the U.S. and UK Relief Packages?

A $2 trillion (£1.6 trillion) U.S. economic relief package was signed last week, and a similar £330 billion ($400 billion) deal was signed in the UK. But what’s actually in them both and how easy will it be for people to recoup lost income?

Starting with the U.S., most adults will receive a one-off payment of $1,200, though there are several conditional factors: 

  1. Single adults with income of $75,000 or less will get the full amount

  2. Married couples with no children earning $150,000 or less will receive a total of $2,400

  3. Taxpayers filing as head of household will get the full payment if they earned $112,500 or less

  4. Above those income figures, the payment decreases until it stops altogether for single people earning $99,000 or married people who have no children and earn $198,000

  5. You can’t get a payment if someone claims you as a dependent, even if you’re an adult

Full U.S. FAQ

In the UK, the government will provide loans of up to £5 million ($6 million) for small businesses with revenues of less than £45 million ($ 55 million). There’ll also be non-repayable grants of up to £10,000 ($12,250) for 700,000 small businesses, and £25,000 ($30,000) for pubs and restaurants available. As for employees, the government has pledged to pay up to 80 percent of wages of anyone that cannot work because of the virus.


Last week…

#67 — Sarah Nöckel (Femstreet) on how she grew her newsletter dedicated to women in tech and venture capital to more than 7,000 subscribers from scratch and how we can close the inequality gap yesterday.

… Next up

Hopefully James Spann to talk about the beginning of the U.S. tornado season.

Related podcasts…

#65 — Andrew Flowers (Journalist > Politician) on how to make the transition from journalist to running for office, and why the uninsured rate in Massachusetts is the lowest in the country.

#64 — Paula Jean Swearengin (U.S. Senate) on running for the U.S. Senate for a second time, featuring in Netflix’s Knock Down The House and how the coal industry ripped West Virginia to shreds.

Job Corner

The Inside The Newsroom Job Board will be launched next week. Stay tuned.

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