Americans Ain’t Gonna Work On Your COVID-19 Farm No More

coronavirus

Republicans had a theory during the pandemic: Overly generous unemployment benefits would prevent a robust economic recovery because the serfs ... er American workers would refuse to toil and spin. They claimed that businesses couldn't hire anyone thanks to President Joe Biden's COVID-19 stimulus package, which provided expanded unemployment benefits of an extra $300 a week. That is apparently all the average service employee needs to retire.

Rep. Beth Van Duyne from Texas said in May that all this government largesse was proving lethal to business owners.

VAN DUYNE: They're wanting to expand and that, ultimately, should be the goal, as opposed to extending out these bloated programs that are doing nothing more than killing our businesses, killing our employers. Long term, I think it's doing a lot of damage to our economy and to our American psyche.

We doubt the stimulus bill literally killed employers, but those checks did help keep struggling Americans alive. However, the gravy train officially ended in September, and many Republican governors cut the benefits even sooner because they're horrible people. But they insisted this would force every deadbeat living the good life with that extra $300 back to work, because the key to any successful business is a staff of lazy, resentful employees.

However, the recent jobs report did not reveal a surge of hiring in September. Overall, the jobs report was meh, like the box office returns for a movie released simultaneously in theaters and on streaming platforms. Republicans are relishing the associated human suffering because it makes Biden look bad. That's their jam, of course, but they're ignoring how this disproves their Scrooge-like arguments about working people. Let's remind them.



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The American labor force shrank for the first time since May. CNN described this as “more people ... opting to sit on the sidelines and not actively look for work," because they're apparently all lazy football players. A record 10.9 million job openings were reported in July, but folks aren't filling them. Employers added just 194,000 jobs in September.

Gordon Gray, director of fiscal policy at the American Action Forum, said, "If unemployment benefits were the driving force behind labor market dynamics, then you would not have seen that effect." The American Action Forum is a right-leaning think tank, so this admission was likely painful.

Experts warn against jumping to conclusions over just a few months of data but the bummer jobs report is further evidence that Biden's most recent pandemic relief, which only Democrats supported, isn't directly responsible for the current labor shortage. Economists point to other factors, such as child care issues (another matter Republicans and two annoying Democrats refuse to address) and fear of COVID-19 exposure (a legitimate concern in states where dullard governors prohibit businesses from implementing mask or vaccinate mandates). Americans are also reconsidering whether they should risk their lives for people who consider them disposable.

Oh, and a lot of people died recently. COVID-19 has killed at least 713,325 Americans. They weren't all Kardashians. They probably worked somewhere.

An Eater article from March attempted to put faces to these deaths before they become lost to statistics. As a native South Carolinian, I was drawn to the story of Hugh O'Neill, the general manager at Cantina 76 in Mount Pleasant.

O'Neill's wife, Shelby "Mendi" O'Neill, remembers seeing her husband upset in June because he was having a hard time getting customers — many of whom were out-of-towners drawn to the area's beaches — to wear face masks when they picked up their food. Within a couple weeks of that incident, O'Neill tested positive for COVID-19. After a raging fever, headache, and bad cough, he seemed to be getting better. On the night of July 1, he suddenly could barely stand and had trouble breathing. Mendi drove him to the hospital, where she dropped him off. That was the last time she saw him.

O'Neill died on July 19, after nearly three weeks on a ventilator. He was 53 years old. He is survived by Mendi, their daughter, Asiling, his parents, Linda and Hugh, and his sisters, Kelly and Christine.

We don't know for sure if asshole tourists who wouldn't wear a mask are directly responsible for O'Neill's death. However, I don't blame workers for staying home, where it's safe. What might actually help improve the economy is if Americans could start giving a damn about each other. It shouldn't be this hard.

[CNN / Eater]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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