Unemployment benefits: are people lazy or do other factors come into play?

If you want people to come back to work, give them a job worth taking

  • Thursday, June 10, 2021 9:30am
  • Opinion
Rich Elfers

Rich Elfers

Which side do you take? Do you support 24 Republican governors who want to end the COVID-induced federal $300-per-week unemployment checks in June rather than in September when the program ends? Or do you argue that there are reasons why workers are not going back to work?

The answer lies with your view of human nature. Are humans innately lazy? Are you innately lazy? Or do most people want to work but are hindered by other factors? The Republican governors are perhaps projecting their own work attitudes and biases toward the poor upon the unemployed.

In a June 2021 CBS study, researchers found there are numerous reasons why many workers are not yet looking for a job. Three were listed: Many mothers are staying home, either because there is no daycare available – due first to daycare labor shortages or, second, because their children have not yet returned to school, making it necessary for them to stay home to care for their children. The third reason is the fear of catching COVID. Being out in the workplace exposes people to infection. Also, children younger than 12 don’t yet have the option for vaccinations though they may be available by September.

It might be helpful to do a personal check on the people you know who aren’t working and aren’t looking for jobs – if you know any. The people I know who are unemployed have young children to take care of. They had no choice but to be home with their children who were schooling online. For them, those federal checks were a godsend, allowing them to pay their bills and stay at home.

Republicans are capitalistic. There’s nothing wrong with the concept of capitalism. Republicans don’t like the idea of big government paying people not to work. That is a valid concern, but it’s also simplistic. Ironically, the law of supply and demand states that if an employer wants more applicants, he/she must raise wages and supply benefits.

Many of the unemployed staying at home are making cost/benefits decisions. Some work in low wage, low education jobs. Their pre-COVID wages were below a living wage. Why go to work if you can make nearly as much by staying home?

Why don’t employers simply increase wages to incentivize people to find a job? Part of the problem may be the greed of many owners and employers, thus their unwillingness to pay a decent wage to their workers. On the other hand, many employers (particularly restaurants) are offering sign-on bonuses, wage increases, etc., without getting applicants.

There’s a CBS story of a business in Mississippi called Shaggy’s Biloxi Beach whose general manager Matt Roberts raised wages to a guaranteed $15 per hour, adding medical, dental and vision insurance for full-time employees. He had no trouble filling his employment quota.

Does the Mississippi Republican governor feel so secure in his elected position that he can afford to unilaterally refuse $27 million in federal aid for 90,000 workers? Is his state so red that he feels safe in angering approximately 3 percent of Mississippi workers while calling them lazy and shiftless?

Gig workers are not eligible for state unemployment in these Republican-controlled states, but their benefits are also being cut early. They’re the Uber and Lyft drivers and freelancers whose one-month termination notice won’t give them enough time to find work.

Republican governors are right in being concerned about taxpayer money being misused. But their biases toward the poor unemployed show a deep lack of empathy, especially since there are many statistically provable reasons why people aren’t looking for jobs. Their thinking represents simplistic, dogma-driven biases. It also reflects what they, the governors, might do in their shoes.

Perhaps it’s time for Republicans to fix their policies rather than rely on party loyalty to win re-election. Perhaps it’s time for the Republicans to set aside loyalty to one man and one party.

They might show a little empathy to the poor in their districts who would rather stay at home than be exploited.

It’s time to change the parameters – from party loyalty to policy improvements that benefit the citizens of their states.


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