White House march by the Unemployed Council, March 6, 1930. CPUSA Archives

The latest fad among Republican governors, when they can take a moment from making voting harder and making the lives of trans people miserable, is declaring that too many people are living it up on emergency unemployment benefits, so the governors will end the $300 a week federal benefit in their states. So far, the Republican governors of five states — Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Montana, and South Carolina — have announced they plan to end the emergency benefits at some point in June. More are expected to follow, probably while I'm writing this up so I'll have to go back and update. (The cruelty really is the point, whether it's directed at struggling families or at bloggers.)

Update: Well yes, since I wrote my first draft, we need to add Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, and Tennessee to the list of states ending the federal benefits early. Hooray for my predictive powers.

The governors have all pointed at anecdotal accounts of employers who say they're having trouble filling low-wage positions, and also at Friday's monthly employment report, which found the economy only added 266,000 jobs instead of the million new hires some economists have predicted.

The sudden passion for ending emergency unemployment aid doesn't seem to be based in any actual evidence that hundreds of thousands of Americans are turning down jobs, however. In fact, most of the research finds the opposite: People want to get back to work, but they may not be able to for a variety of reasons. And on the employer side, there are lots of reasons some employers are having trouble filling positions, especially for lower-paying jobs.

But hey, Republicans don't do "complexity." It's much easier to chant that you don't like "paying people not to work," which has the added benefit of allowing you to blame Joe Biden for your state's difficulties emerging from the COVID recession.


First off, while the Labor Department's employment numbers for April were a disappointment compared to March's initial report of 916,000 jobs, it's worth noting the March numbers were actually way off, and were revised in the latest report to 770,000. It's entirely possible the April numbers will end up being revised upwards, and even if they aren't, it's incredibly stupid to cut benefits for hundreds of thousands of Americans based on a single month's numbers in this weird pandemic economy. Then again, the GOP governors cutting the benefits have pretty good jobs already, and the general elections are a long way away, now aren't they?

Of the bullshit lies various governors have peddled about the emergency unemployment benefits, some of the worst came from South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who said the real victims here were the employers who "face an unprecedented labor shortage." Calling the aid to workers "a clear and present danger to the health of our State's businesses," McMaster whined,

What was intended to be a short-term financial assistance for the vulnerable and displaced during the height of the pandemic has turned into a dangerous federal entitlement, incentivizing and paying workers to stay at home rather than encouraging them to return to the workplace,

Or, in more flabbergasting words, "We're not going to take that unemployment money to pay people for not working."

McMaster ordered the state to cut off not just the extra $300 a week, but also to end help for workers who've exhausted state benefits, and for folks who don't even qualify for state benefits, like gig workers, independent contractors, and the self-employed, who apparently have refused job offers from themselves. Other governors, like Montana's Greg Gianforte, are planning similar complete cutoffs.

And while the US economy still has some eight million fewer jobs than it did prior to the pandemic, we won't be quoting any of the millions of unemployed Americans who are supposedly refusing to return to work due to their cushy unemployment benefits, because for some reason, we haven't seen a single interview with those mythical creatures. No doubt Fox News will scare up some outlier to take the national blame, much like it found a beach bum who bought lobster with food stamps in 2013. Hell, maybe the same guy will come back on camera!

Beyond the utter lack of people saying I Heart Unemployment, there's also little empirical evidence to suggest the princely sum of $300 a week is preventing people from looking for jobs. A February study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute found the opposite, in fact: Even last year, when the emergency unemployment benefit was $600 a week, most workers didn't hesitate to return to work when they got the chance, even before the benefits expired. In fact, during the pandemic at least, the "job search disincentive effect is an order of magnitude smaller than would have been expected based on models calibrated to pre-pandemic behavior." What's more, when the expanded benefit ended in July of last year, the rate of folks returning to work didn't expand significantly, probably because the number of available jobs had nothing to do with whether people were getting $600 a week or bupkis. (Mind you, those left high and dry when the benefit ended did have less to spend on food and rent, so that no doubt hurt local economies.)

Similarly, a Yale study last year found that

workers facing larger expansions in UI benefits have returned to their previous jobs over time at similar rates as others. We find no evidence that more generous benefits disincentivized work either at the onset of the expansion or as firms looked to return to business over time.

Why, it's almost as if all these Republican governors are just repeating the same old stereotypes about work and unemployment insurance that they always have.

When the April employment numbers were released last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that emergency unemployment benefits weren't leading to worker shortages (but then, she would, wouldn't she?). CBS News has the deets:

[Yellen] said when they looked at states and sectors where supplemental benefits were high, there weren't lower job finding rates as the argument would suggest, and in fact it was the "exact opposite."

A separate study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago looking at unemployment insurance and job searching using data from 2013 through 2019 found those receiving unemployment benefits search more intensely for work over those not receiving benefits and once benefits drop off, search efforts drop steeply.

And as we noted last week, companies willing to pay a decent wage are having little difficulty finding workers.

For his part, President Biden said Monday that "Americans want to work" and that "the people claiming Americans won't work even if they find a good and fair opportunity underestimate the American people."

At the very least, they aren't looking at the data. But why would they, when there's a political benefit to pretending most low-income workers are so horribly lazy that they need to be threatened with disaster to force them into work?

[CBS News / USA Today / The State / HuffPo / NBC News / MarketWatch]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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