There Is No Crisis of Laziness

Republican governors are fed up with sympathizing with the millions of unemployed Americans. In March 2020, Congress increased unemployment benefits to offset the sudden job loss caused by Covid-19. But in late May, more than three-quarters of the GOP-led states said they would prematurely end the additional $ 300 payments, expanded eligibility, and extended benefit period.

Legislators in these 24 states say they respond to claims by business owners that more generous unemployment benefits make people unwilling to return to work. But this complaint is more a fantasy than a fact.

Economists have pumped out tons of studies on whether higher unemployment benefits make people reluctant to work. The results are almost unanimous: they don’t. One paper found that the increasing unemployment controls during the pandemic did not result in a decline in employment. In fact, people were still looking for jobs and employers had no more trouble finding employees than usual. We also have a recent test case: During the Great Recession, employment in countries with more generous benefits was about the same as in countries with more stingy ones. And when the benefits abruptly ended last July, there was no sudden surge in the number of people in employment.

Why could that be? Even if unemployment benefits are higher than what someone used to make at work, we all know that it is only temporary. A job, on the other hand, offers current income, which we wisely place a higher value on.

It is also clear that the significantly higher unemployment benefits offered by Congress during the pandemic have saved people from starvation. When Congress finally decided a new hike in December after the previous one expired, and also added another round of stimulus controls and increased benefits on grocery stamps, the number of people living below the poverty line fell by 13 million.

Eliminating this lifeline will not weaken the economy. There are good reasons some Americans find it difficult to work. For one thing, many families still do not have childcare. Only about half of schools have fully resumed face-to-face teaching and many childcare facilities have not reopened or returned to normal capacity.

And while we’re all relieved that the number of Covid cases is falling, only about half of adults are fully vaccinated. Especially the countries that cut unemployment benefits are sluggish vaccinations. Mask requirements are now disappearing, although service employees have no way of knowing which customers have been vaccinated and which are not.

The work is therefore not safe. Yet most employers refuse to pay a premium to bring people back. While recreational and hospitality wages have increased recently, they are only just returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Despite these limitations, Americans are actually getting back to work, even if it doesn’t go as quickly as some would like. New applications for unemployment benefits have steadily declined in recent weeks, falling by 48 percent between January and the end of May.

But apparently this advance is not fast enough for Republican governors. Overall, states that say they will pull out of the expanded federal benefits are expected to throw up to 4.1 million people off the rails this month.

This should come as no surprise. Conservatives have long been determined to force Americans to work by threatening to take advantage away from them if they fail to do so. For example, they have touted work needs in the form of welfare, a stick designed to force the poor to take jobs in order to receive financial aid. We have learned since their inception that they don’t increase the work. What they are doing is impoverishing more people.

Even before Congress passed additional unemployment benefits, Republicans warned that they would punish people for not working. In April 2020, at the start of the pandemic, then Labor Minister Eugene Scalia said he did not want workers to “become dependent on the unemployment system”.

GOP lawmakers at all levels seem determined to create a pool of workers so financially desperate that they will work for whatever employers offer for meager pay. It is a barbaric way of treating people and it betrays a grim vision of our fellow Americans. There is no crisis of laziness. The only real crisis is that we have not ensured that people can get back to meaningful, lucrative work.

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