Plus, the pandemic continues to weigh on many Americans, despite the increase in vaccinations and drop in cases recently.
More than 4.2 million people said they are not working because they are concerned about getting or spreading the virus, according to Census survey data from the second half of April.
Nearly 2.5 million said they had coronavirus symptoms or were caring for someone who did, and 6.8 million said they were caring for children who were not in school or daycare.
States are ending federal unemployment benefit enhancements
Over the past week, Republican governors in Montana, South Carolina and Arkansas have announced they are terminating the federal jobless benefits in their states next month, including the $300 weekly boost and the payments for freelancers, independent contractors, certain people affected by the virus and those who’ve run out of their regular state benefits. All cited labor shortages.
“As we emerge from Covid-19, retail and service companies, restaurants and industry are attempting to return to pre-pandemic unemployment levels, but employees are as scarce today as jobs were a year ago,” said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, who on Friday announced his state would cease the federal benefits in late June.
“The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market,” Neil Bradley, the chamber’s chief policy officer, said on Friday, noting the weekly enhancement results in roughly 1 in 4 recipients earning more in unemployment payments than they did working.
Whether the beefed up benefits are keeping people from accepting job offers is a matter of debate. Economists at the University of Chicago and Yale University, among others, found that last year’s $600 supplement had little to no impact on laid-off workers’ decisions.
Asked Friday whether the enhanced benefits was a disincentive for people to return to work, Biden said, “No, nothing measurable.”
And supporters of the system expansion point to the fact that job increases in April were tilted toward lower-paying sectors, whose workers would benefit the most from the $300 weekly boost.
An unprecedented expansion
Congress enacted the historic expansion of the nation’s unemployment benefits system in March 2020 as the virus began to ravage the country, forcing most states to impose stay-at-home orders and many businesses to shut their doors and lay off workers. It was intended to support people while they couldn’t work or look for jobs.
Lawmakers provided a $600 weekly supplement for four months, extended the duration of state benefits and opened up the system to gig workers, the self-employed, freelancers, independent contractors and people who could not work because of the virus or had to stay home because their children’s schools had closed.
“This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said at the time, adding that “it’s the worst idea I’ve seen in a long time.”
That generosity plagued the supplement and proved to be a major factor in it not being renewed after expiring in late July.