He was careful to say elsewhere during these remarks that the White House has no hard evidence that generous federal unemployment benefits are disincentivizing people from seeking work.
But this sudden emphasis on looking for a job or losing your check didn’t come out of nowhere.
I’m guessing the internal polling over the weekend on whether benefits should be scaled back in order to encourage employment didn’t look so hot for Team Joe. Watch, then read on.
.@POTUS: "We're going to make it clear that anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits."
— CSPAN (@cspan) May 10, 2021
“Don’t worry,” tweeted Charles Cooke. “They’re sending money to small businesses, so that when the money they’re sending to workers means that those small businesses can’t hire any workers, the small businesses won’t go out of business.”
Some lefties think the way to incentivize workers is straightforward. If they’re getting robust unemployment benefits for doing nothing, let’s pay them even more robust wages for doing something. “People will come back to work if they are paid a decent wage,” Biden sniffed today. MSNBC anchors can’t find the flaw in that thinking:
Why is it – that the unemployment benefits are too generous rather than the pay offered by employers too low?
Pay more $ = find more workers
If margins are so thin, that you cannot increase pay without passing it through/losing customers = your biz model doesn’t work https://t.co/OODyU8smSH
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) May 10, 2021
Laying aside the fact that businesses that operate on narrow margins may not be able to hike wages and stay afloat, the comparison between wages and benefits is inapt. When businesses compete for labor by paying higher wages, they’re all constrained by the need to remain profitable. Uncle Sam plays by different rules. More Cooke:
I am now hearing progressives argue that it is “rational” for people to sit at home if the government pays them more to do so than an employer will pay them to work. In a strict sense, this is of course correct: When, as the Wall Street Journal has confirmed, “the average unemployment recipient earns better than the equivalent of working full time at $15 an hour,” it will be tough to convince some people to get off their asses to do what’s right. But this, ultimately, is an argument for losers. We are not talking here about a labor market in which private businesses are forced to compete with each other for staff; we are talking here about a labor market in which private businesses are competing with federal handouts, from a cash pit politicians are increasingly convinced is bottomless. Or, put another way: We are talking about a labor market in which private businesses are struggling to hire because too many potential workers would prefer to take a share of actual workers’ pay than to get a job of their own. It is true that, when given this choice, some people will pocket the cash. It is also true that those people are deadbeats.
Biden’s solution is to keep the federal payments going while leaning on states to make sure they’re requiring recipients to be seek “suitable” work to remain eligible:
New today from the White House — directing labor department to work with states to “reinstate work search requirements” for UI recipients pic.twitter.com/uMOEuQwsij
— Jeff Stein (@JStein_WaPo) May 10, 2021
Some governors like Ron DeSantis have already made that move. A few days ago he declared that Florida’s law mandating that unemployment beneficiaries contact five employers each week would soon go back into effect after being waived for the past year amid the pandemic economic downturn. Other governors like Greg Gianforte of Montana have gone a step further by opting out of federal unemployment benefits entirely, forcing laid-off Montanas to either make do with the weekly state payment or start pounding the pavement.
Ben Sasse had an idea over the weekend. Why not convert federal unemployment benefits into a bonus for people who seek out and find jobs?
“Now, as millions of Americans are vaccinated each day, we’ve got crummy job numbers – 7,400,000 jobs are available but fewer than 300,000 people returned to work last month. We’ve got to get America and Americans up and running. We need a pro-worker, pro-recovery plan,” he added.
Sasse’s plan would pay a bonus equal to 101% of current pandemic unemployment insurance benefits through several payments for anyone who demonstrates they found a job and are keeping it. Anyone who gets a job by July 4 would be eligible to receive the payments.
As with everything else in Washington circa 2021, Joe Manchin gets to call the shots. If he wants to make his support for Biden’s infrastructure bill contingent upon the White House agreeing to end federal unemployment benefits before September, when they’re currently scheduled to lapse, presumably he can make it happen. And his home state’s red enough that he might not be penalized for it, even though some of his own constituents are counting on four more months of those checks. How about it Joe? It’s your world. The rest of us are just living in it, desperately trying to staff up at a moment when many blue-collar workers are getting paid more to stay home.