Rhythm And Blues: Despite The Pandemic, Musicians Find Novel Ways To Reach An Audience

Rhythm And Blues: Despite The Pandemic, Musicians Find Novel Ways To Reach An Audience

The pandemic has wreaked havoc in many industries, including music.

Many guitarists, pianists, violinists, drummers, and even singers, lost their livelihood as their income depended entirely on live performances.

Although the COVID-19 outbreak has generated a wave of unemployment at an unprecedented global level, it has also allowed thousands of people to demonstrate their ability to adapt.

Despite obstacles to overcome, musicians have not stopped playing, using their creativity to continue their artistry.

Some share their talent through social media. Some offer private concerts by video call, charging a lower fee than live events. Others keep practicing, so they do not lose their ability or desire to play. Their neighbors, who are also isolated, get to enjoy their afternoons with music in the air.

But the struggle has been difficult, despite the optimism and perseverance.

“Our presentations plummeted and with them, our income. Even so, we have not wavered,” said Rafael Santos Zamorano, director of the ‘Quinteto Mocambo,’ a Mexican group whose music has enjoyed national and international recognition.

Members of Quinteto Mocambo serenade the Virgin of Guadalupe in December. They say the frequency of their performances has plummeted. (Christian Valera Rebolledo/Café Words)

Music: a ray of light during tough times

The pandemic has been a hard blow for many, who have had to change their plans suddenly.

“There is no doubt the pandemic has hit us hard, we have been able to do so little work, and from there, we have had to reflect on our future,” said Santos Zamorano.

To survive, musicians of all kinds have shared their talents through YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or TikTok, going viral with fragments of popular songs or original pieces.

Another option is to share covers, since it shows respect for old songs, reinventing old classics for newer generations. For some, having new versions of their favorite songs can be enriching.

In neighborhoods around the world with terraces or balconies, artists choose certain times each week to rehearse. People do not ask them to leave. On the contrary, they ask them to continue to play, as they bring normalcy to a troubled world.

Musicians have had to find creative new ways to make it through the pandemic. Some play to keep people in good spirits. (Carlos Coronado/Unsplash)

In Mexico, people have made videos where they sing, at the top of their lungs from their rooftops, songs like ‘Ramito de Violetas,’ or ‘Resistiré México,’ as an anthem of resistance, strength and power.

Despite the struggle, many musicians continue to foster their talent. They know they can entertain and transmit peace to society through their lyrics and music.

Hundreds of festivals have been broadcasted online to remind people they can still enjoy performances without fear of crowds and contagion.

Musicians accept that sacrifices are sometimes necessary for the good of all.

“We have hope nowadays with the vaccines, but it is coming at a slow pace. It is a survival situation where we must all take care of ourselves, even if it entails losses,” said Santos Zamorano.

Several groups managed to organize and raise awareness about the importance of staying at home, with songs or positive messages from their digital profiles.

Musicians in Cuba, Spain, Mexico and Canada have set the example with new compositions and projects that capitalize on creativity, talent and the desire to make music.

They have produced their new songs at home, creating simple videos of excellent quality to sustain their art.

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez. Edited by Fern Siegel.)



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Critics Take Aim at India’s Unemployment Benefit for 4 Million Workers

Critics Take Aim at India’s Unemployment Benefit for 4 Million Workers

MUGHALSARAI, India—Some 4 million workers stand to benefit from a recent move by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that recently relaxed eligibility criteria and enhanced payments for those who have lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the scheme is not without its critics.

The Ministry of Labour and Employment announced on Aug. 20 that workers covered under the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation  scheme will get 50 percent of 90 days’ wages if they have lost or will lose their jobs between March 24 and Dec. 31 this year. This could benefit 4.1 million industrial workers, the government claims. Previously, the wage benefit was marked at 25 percent.

The country went into lockdown on March 25 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

As per labor laws, businesses with 10 or more employees must register with the ESIC. This allows their employees to get INR 21,000 ($281) a month, or $335 if they are disabled, to avail them of primary or tertiary healthcare benefits.

“We have updated the ESIC database with the latest employee records,” said P. K. Singh, assistant director (general), subregional ESIC office in Pandeypur, Varanasi. “Once we receive a formal notice, we will start releasing funds to the eligible people.

 

“This will help provide relief to the huge number of workers who have been rendered jobless by the pandemic,” he said.

Since Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was elected in May 2019, the opposition has been attacking it on rising unemployment in the country.

India follows an April-March financial year, and in 2017-18 the country’s unemployment rate soared to a 45-year high of 6.1 percent from 2.2 percent in 2011-12. In April 2019, unemployment rose to 7 percent, increasing to 7.76 percent in February 2020.

The two main reasons cited for this are the government’s decision to demonetize high-value currency notes (INR 500 and INR 1,000) in November 2016 and the introduction of a new indirect tax (the goods and services) in July 2017.

The currency measure severely hit demand in the cash-dependent country, resulting in the withdrawal of 86 percent of the money in circulation. The introduction of the goods and services tax was marred by many teething troubles and affected the small and medium-size enterprises in that are the major employers. When the Covid-19 crisis hit, the economy has not recovered from these twin shocks. The lockdown has resulted in businesses closing and more people losing their jobs.

A migrant family travels inside a tempo stopped by Mumbai Police on the Eastern Express Highway in Mumbai, India on May 21, 2020. They were later provided a state transport bus. (Courtesy: Emmanual Yogini)

The unemployment rate dropped dramatically from 23.5 percent in April to 7.43 percent in July, but there is still a lot of distress.

“Had the Modi-led government taken enough measures to address India’s unemployment problem in time, the country could have avoided the failure of its economic machinery,” said Ashok Singh, president of the Indian National Trade Union Congress in Uttar Pradesh.

“Despite the unemployment rate shooting up in December 2019, the lawmakers didn’t deem it necessary to include a section on unemployment insurance and assistance in the Social Security Code Bill submitted to the parliament the same month,” said K R Shyam Sundar, professor of human resource management at the XLRI -Xavier School of Managementin Jamshedpur.

“The government is always trying to avoid the financial burden of providing unemployment assistance,” said Sundar, an industrial relations expert and columnist.   “And this fiscal mathematics is preventing policymakers from designing, even after the pandemic, a comprehensive unemployment insurance and assistance scheme. Such is the poverty of labor legislation in a neoliberal India.”

In the early 1990s, India moved away from a Soviet-inspired planned economy to a more free-market economy, with mixed results. Despite rapid economic growth, economic inequality is stark.

The top 10 percent of the Indian population holds 77 percent of national wealth, according to an Oxfam report. Many Indians are unable to access health care and 63 million are pushed into poverty because of this every year, the report states.

The government’s unemployment policies have been criticized as political gestures. The relaxation in the ESIC scheme is also being viewed with skepticism.

“The law neglects a large sector of the work force — those employed in organizations with less than 10 people,” said Devesh Tripathi a lawyer from Chandauli in Uttar Pradesh who specializes in the ESIC.

“There is a lack of clarity on how this new ESIC modification will define unemployment,” he said. “Claims of employment will also be difficult to authenticate.”

The scheme allows a worker to declare himself as unemployed. To receive unemployment relief, the insured person should have been employed for at least two years and have contributed to the scheme a minimum of 78 days prior to losing their job.

Critics say that more people could have been brought into the scheme and a greater allowance would have been possible if the government in July 2019 had note allowed the contribution to the scheme to be cut. Employers now contribute 3.25 percent, down from the earlier 4.75 percent, and employees contribute 1.75 percent, down from 0.75 percent, of monthly salaries.

Migrants from Uttar Pradesh rest along the Mumbai Nashik Highway in Mumbai, India on May 21, 2020. (Courtesy: Emmanual Yogini)

Liberalization of the economy has meant a large influx of foreign funds and privatization of major government-owned companies. The United States invested $45.88 billion in India in 2019. The government has also set itself a disinvestment target of INR 21 trillion ($284 billion) in financial year 2020-21.

But this has come at a cost to laborers.

“The public sector is the backbone of a country,” said Ashok Singh. “But the government wants to privatize it. It could have helped solve the unemployment crisis to a great extent.”

Sundar believes the country will face a bigger unemployment problem before long.

“The manufacturing and services sector will introduce technology-related unemployment in a few years,” he said. “The government must prepare a strong social security system.”

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



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Zimbabwe labor union blasts Chinese employers in wake of worker shooting

Zimbabwe labor union blasts Chinese employers in wake of worker shooting

HARARE, Zimbabwe—Zimbabwe’s top labor union is complaining that Chinese employers in the southern African country flout labor laws, with employees being assaulted, harassed, denied wages and forced to work in unsafe conditions.

Peter Mutasa, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union, said workers employed by Chinese companies have long complained about unfair labor practices and health and safety hazards and threatened lawsuits, protests and strikes to protect workers.

“Most Chinese employers are a menace to the workers of Zimbabwe,” Mutasa said. “We have been receiving many reports of abuse. Some complain about physical abuse such as assault, sexual harassment, being forced to eat unfamiliar food in canteens. Workers are forced to work long hours, no protective equipment and clothing, no health breaks and in other cases no mandatory weekly rest.”

Mutasa said that many workers, who earn less than $100 a month on average, are also victims of wage theft from employers who fail to pay minimum wages or overtime.

“Generally, workers face serious injustices under the majority of Chinese employers,” Mutasa said.

Mutasa said the union has engaged the government and the Chinese embassy “to no avail.”

“This simply shows that Chinese employers are overly protected by the government, hence their disregard of labor laws,” Mutasa said. “In most instances, trade union officials are not allowed access in the workplaces. When allowed, Chinese employers at times pretend they cannot speak English, and there becomes communication breakdown.”

One Chinese employer, Zhang Xuen, is facing attempted murder charges for shooting two local workers last month during a dispute over outstanding wages.

Paul Mavima, Zimbabwe’s minister of labor, said the government’s official position is that Chinese employers should abide by the labor laws of the country.

“We said that there is no preferential treatment of any employer. Every employer should abide by the labor laws and should treat their workers decently,” Mavima said. “In fact where the public sees [violations], they should report it; no one, no sacred cows at all.”

Zhao Baogang, the deputy ambassador of the Chinese Embassy in Harare, declined to comment on the telephone about alleged abuses by Chinese employers. However, in a terse statement last month, the Chinese Embassy did address the shooting of the two employees in central Zimbabwe: “Any possible illegal acts and persons should not be shielded. China and Zimbabwe have long-standing friendship and cooperation. We call upon all relevant sides to safeguard it jealously and carefully.”

Chinese investments in Zimbabwe run into billions of dollars, with Beijing operating projects in construction, mining, electricity and agricultural sectors.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is battling an economic and political crisis with high inflation of over 800 percent, high unemployment of over 80 percent and lack of investment. Mnangagwa, who took over from long-ruling Robert Mugabe in a military coup in 2017, is facing dissent from civic and opposition activists, many of whom have been arrested and charged with trying to overthrow the government.

John Robertson, an economist in Harare, said many Chinese employers in Zimbabwe operate with impunity because China has done so much to assist the country since the liberation struggle.

“I think whatever the rules, they don’t apply to the Chinese,” Robertson told Zenger News. “They feel they don’t have to obey the rules because [they think], ‘We are who we are and we are owed so much by this government.’ The problem stems from there.”

He said the Chinese also appear to be given special treatment when they apply for permits.

“The government of Zimbabwe is at fault for not enforcing things in the past,” Robertson said. “The Chinese follow different rules … and basically what they are saying to the government is, ‘What do you plan to do about it?’ Because government, so far, has done nothing about it. That’s a good way of getting bad behavior continuing. If you don’t check and arrest the bad behavior, it will continue.”

Robertson added that Zambia, Zimbabwe’s northern neighbor, is facing similar problems.

“If you have heard stories from Zambia, the Chinese employers there are also very unpopular,” he said. “I think their behavior is standard for developing countries; they feel, ‘We can do what we like because we are so important to these countries.’”

(Edited by Robert George and Emily Crockett.)



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Biden wants to up the capital gains tax. Here’s what that could mean for businesses

Biden wants to up the capital gains tax. Here’s what that could mean for businesses

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s proposal to target high-income investors could limit investment in new businesses and asset selloffs.

Currently, the long-term capital gains tax rate for incomes above $400,000 is 20% (specifically, that’s $496,600 for married filing jointly, $441,550 single filers, taxable income). Under Biden’s plan, the rate would increase to 39.6% for incomes above $1 million.

Experts say the increase could lead investors to keep their assets, such as stocks or real estate, longer than they would if the tax rate was lower, and the change could reduce new investments.

“There may be some short-term rush to sell assets that would otherwise be subject to the higher rate, so they can take advantage of the lower rate now. After the rate takes effect, you would expect to see a decline in sales of capital gains, because then folks are more incentivized to lock in their gains in the assets that they have,” said Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation.

If people hold on to their assets longer, it could have an effect on federal revenue, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Kyle Pomerleau.

“One thing under current law that is very distinct about capital gains is that you don’t have to pay the tax when you earn the gain immediately. Instead, you only have to pay tax when you realize the gain. So if I hold on to that stock and it appreciates, I’m earning income. But if I don’t sell that asset, the IRS will never come after me for taxes,” he said.

Incentives to sell assets decrease when tax rates on the profits of those sales increase, Pomerleau said.

Biden’s proposal could also affect decisions about starting new businesses, said Alan Auerbach, a professor of economics and law at the University of California, Berkeley. “There’s been an argument that (it could particularly affect) startup enterprises — think of Silicon Valley or other enterprises like that — where capital gains represent a pretty big part of the payoff if the businesses succeed,” he said. “It may discourage that kind of activity.” But, he said, it’s unclear how much consideration business owners give to the potential of higher capital gains taxes down the road when starting off.

“It’s not going to have a huge impact on the economy,” Auerbach said.

One rationale for a lower rate is to incentivize people to invest their capital, said Hank Gutman, counsel at Ivins Phillips Barker. “If you ask conservatives, they will tell you that you have to have a preference for capital income in order to provide incentives for investment. Many other economists will say that’s nonsense — you don’t need to have incentives for investment,” he said. “People invest because they think there’s going to be a real economic gain and not because they’re going to get a tax break.”

Further, “it’s a marginal effect, if any, because the underlying economics of investments are the things that make investments good or bad,” Gutman said. “The tax rate to me is just something that’s on the margin. But others would argue that it’s really important.”

(Edited by Kathleen Huston and Cathy Jones.)



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U.S. jobless claims fall to lowest level since COVID shutdown

U.S. jobless claims fall to lowest level since COVID shutdown

WASHINGTON — Initial jobless claims fell in the U.S. at the end of last month to their lowest level since before the COVID-19 pandemic tanked the economy.

First-time unemployment filings fell by a seasonally adjusted 249,000 to 1.2 million for the week ending Aug. 1, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday. It was the lowest weekly total since March, signaling a recovering economy even though numbers remain at historically high levels.

The U.S. added 1.8 million jobs in July, pushing the unemployment rate down to 10.2 percent from 11.1 percent in June, the Labor department said Friday. The Trump economy added 4.8 million jobs in June.

“June’s pace was great and would have brought us back to February unemployment levels in just a couple of months, but July’s pace is considerably slower,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter.

“We need to add about 2.5 million jobs a month to recover all the jobs lost due to COVID by the end of year. It doesn’t seem like that is even remotely possible given that Covid cases are still high,” she said.

Pollack attributed the decrease in jobless claims to the expiration of the extra $600 weekly federal unemployment payments, but she said the addition of jobs in July was “better than expected.”

ZipRecruiter is seeing a weekly increase in job postings, she said.

“Jobs for e-commerce specialists, online merchants, web designers,” Pollak said. “Of course there is very robust hiring for warehouse workers and delivery drivers.”

The largest gains are coming from hard-hit industries—retail and leisure and hospitality—rehiring workers, according to Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor.

The latest numbers are encouraging, said Lydia Boussour, a senior economist at Oxford Economics, but also show that momentum is slowing.

“Our baseline remains that labor market conditions continue to gradually improve albeit at a slower pace,” Boussour said. “While jobs will continue to be recouped as the economy recovers, we still expect the employment shortfall to persist well into 2022 as the scarring effects of the coronavirus recession on the labor market leads to a shallower recovery.”

(Edited by Allison Elyse Gualtieri and David Martosko)



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