Unemployment wasn't keeping people from work as Republicans claimed — data shows something else could be happening
Caregiver (Shutterstock)

Republicans promoted the conspiracy theory that Americans weren't going back to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic because they were too busy living the comfortable life on the U.S. dime. Data now shows that they were wrong.

The New York Times reported Sunday that in Missouri when federal pay for the unemployed was scrapped, workers still were being choosy. Gov. Mike Parson (R) proudly proclaimed that his state would be among the first to kill unemployment benefits. It still hasn't worked, however.

"Work-force development officials said they had seen virtually no uptick in applicants since the governor's announcement, which ended a $300 weekly supplement to other benefits," said the report. "And the online job site Indeed found that in states that have abandoned the federal benefits, clicks on job postings were below the national average."

It's early on in the post-pandemic era, but thus far, the GOP claims appear to be false.

"One way you might define normal is when employers and workers have the same idea of what an appropriate package looks like, and then the issue is matching up the people with the jobs," said University of Maryland economist Katharine G. Abraham. "Clearly part of the problem now is that what employers and what workers think is out of whack."

With 9.3 million out of work, surely there would be crowds to beat down the door. But some think it isn't about the jobs but the high cost of other things that make work seem impossible. With fewer child care options, already high costs are soaring. If someone makes less money working and paying for child care, then it makes more sense to stay at home.

For some, the high cost of health and safety is the factor. Work might be great, but if there's no health insurance in the position and they contract COVID from unvaccinated co-workers or customers, they could hurt family members or their children and be bankrupt from health expenses.

Angelic Hobart, a client service manager at American Staffing told the Times that people now know how in-demand they are and are better able to negotiate for higher pay, better benefits and things most good companies provide.

"And I think that is being taken advantage of," said Hobart. But public benefits have made people "very complacent."

It's an ironic statement, given the cost of living demanded of American families.

"In St. Louis, a single person needs to earn $14 an hour to cover basic expenses at a minimum standard," reported the Times citing M.I.T.'s living-wage calculator. "Add a child, and the needed wage rises just above $30. Two adults working with two children would each have to earn roughly $21 an hour."

So, many workers have felt that they were the ones being taken advantage of by companies, now it appears they're refusing to be part of that system.

Of the 34 employers and agencies at a Maryland job fair, many were willing to increase pay by $1 an hour. But as one woman saw it, the wages were still too low.

"They're offering $10, $12, $13," said Elodie Nohone who earns $15 an hour as a visiting caregiver. "There's no point in being here."

Her boyfriend, Damond Green was in a similar boat. He works two jobs, but even his job at McDonald's pays $15 an hour.

"I want to do something where my work is appreciated," he said, "and pay me decent."

While things might change, it appears, at least for now, the free market is delivering a harsh blow to low-paying employers.

Read the full report from the New York Times.