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Opinion: Will ending supplemental benefits help America recover? Republican states are counting on it

SHARE Opinion: Will ending supplemental benefits help America recover? Republican states are counting on it
A sign at a Nordstrom in Coral Gables, Fla. advertises a hiring event.

A sign at a Nordstrom store in Coral Gables, Florida advertises a hiring event.

Marta Lavandier, Associated Press

Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 559,000 net new jobs were created in May. In normal times, that would be a good number, something to celebrate. But coming out of the pandemic-induced levels of unemployment, it was seen as disappointing to most economists. In fact, it was the second month in a row where the level of job creation fell significantly short of expectations.

The problem is not a lack of available jobs, it is a lack of available workers. As businesses are re-opening and customers are coming back, many can’t find the workers to serve all the returning customers.

For example, a restaurant down the street from my home posted a sign saying they will serve only a limited menu. Why? Because they can’t find enough workers to handle the growing number of customers. Similar signs and messages have popped up all around the country. These signs and the stories behind them have fueled a growing belief that workers are staying home because they can make more on unemployment than by taking a job.

The current policy dispute centers around supplemental unemployment benefits that were put in place early in the pandemic. They were seen as essential at a time when 40 million people were suddenly thrown out of work and businesses weren’t allowed to open and rehire them. However, many today believe that those supplemental benefits are serving as a disincentive for people to work. It is simply irrational, the thinking goes, to go to work and see your income drop.

As a result, 25 states (including Utah) have already ended the supplemental benefits or scheduled a date for doing so. Stunningly, though, not a single state with a Democratic governor is on this list. All 25 states that have dropped the extra benefits have Republican governors.

Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen has written that this divide creates something very rare in the economic world — “a real-life test of an economic theory’s validity.” In Olsen’s view, we now have “a natural experiment that will test whether supplemental benefits are an impediment to working. If job openings are filled faster in states ending their participation in the program than in states still participating, we’ll have a clear case that they are creating a disincentive to work.”

Voters clearly expect that to be the case. Polling I conducted this past weekend found that 68% believe ending the supplemental benefits will encourage people currently receiving unemployment benefits to take a job.

As a result, 71% favor ending the supplemental benefits and returning unemployment benefits to normal levels. Just 19% are opposed and 10% are not sure.

Support for ending the benefits is found across partisan, ideological and demographic lines. A majority of voters in every measured group favor ending those benefits. Support comes from 86% of Republicans, 67% of independents and 59% of Democrats.

Underlying these attitudes is the fact that 46% of voters know someone who is making more money by collecting unemployment than they could earn by working. Among those who know someone in that situation, 82% favor ending the supplemental benefits.

These findings come at a time when 56% of voters believe the worst of the pandemic is behind us. Just 19% believe the worst is yet to come. Voters are hungry for a return to some sense of normalcy. And, for many, it appears that the return to normal includes an end to pandemic-related policies. 

Scott Rasmussen is an American political analyst and digital media entrepreneur. He is the author of “The Sun is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed But America Will Not.”