While I oppose some Congressional Republicans’ posture on certain issues, they were prescient about one thing, i.e., the unintended consequences of extending and paying unemployment benefits which net a payment higher than the actual earnings of laid off employees. The GOP correctly predicted that many folks would not return to work when they could collect a higher paycheck, still stay at home, and avoid COVID-19
risk. Bloomberg Businessweek (April 12, 2021) cited a study done by the National Federation of Independent Business that statistically established that small businesses reported a vacancy of 42 percent of jobs these businesses wanted to fill vs. an average of 22 percent over 55 years. Of respondents, 91 percent cited that they had few or no qualified job applicants for job openings for the past three months. Night after night on local news Rhode Island business owners, particularly restaurant proprietors, have bemoaned the fact that they advertise for job openings or call past employees back to work and nobody has answered the call. Some have gone so far as offering signing bonuses, all to no avail.
It is never a good policy to incentivize folks who are healthy enough to work to sit home. While theoretically a person cannot collect jobless benefits when he/she turns down a job, labor department employees are obviously eased up on that rule during COVID-19. Further, labor departments are so inundated with unexpected federal funds that they have all they can do to process the extra money.
Equally problematic is the growing mindset that after all the time that has gone by, people are finding it hard to go back to work. Surges of COVID-19 justify their caution to hunker down at home. The state of Rhode Island, along with many cities and towns, also established a dangerous, albeit a then compassionate, posture of having state or municipal employees work part time and collect the shortage in their paychecks via unemployment checks. These part-time jobs, particularly in Providence, have now become the gold standard as Mayor Jorge Elorza has kept City Hall shuttered.
Another problem is the employees who worked at home don’t want to return to work among people. Certainly, some employers are reticent to continue leasing offices for space which might be obviated by having workers perform their jobs from home, but that should be an employer choice, not a forced decision because people want to stay in their sweatpants.
Of course, not everyone who wants a job can get one. Tightness in job markets varies by occupation and geography. One talking point that President Joseph Biden has on his side is that “infrastructure” in his proposed legislation encompasses developing a workforce for the new jobs of this century. Higher paying jobs require skills that far too many people lack. A lot of spending President Biden proposed, is a giveaway, as evidenced by Mayor Elorza and others appointing advisory groups to tell them how to spend the money. Were the cash influx truly needed, the need would be obvious. Now the Biden administration is proposing another $1.9 trillion cash dump.
Economic recovery will crawl along as the workforce trickles back until the unemployment benefits cease in September. Restaurants and other tourist magnets will suffer without employees. The Democrats created the problem.
Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.