President Joe Biden’s administration does not believe $300-a-week enhanced unemployment benefits are leading to widespread worker shortages, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, as those continued benefits have come under attack from Republicans who claim people are purposely staying out of work to keep collecting unemployment checks.
Psaki said the White House has not found data to back up claims that the enhanced unemployment benefits are behind a labor shortage.
There have been numerous reports recently about businesses not being able to find enough workers to fill positions, especially in notoriously low-paying industries like restaurants and hospitality work, as more of those businesses reopen.
Reports of job shortages have largely been based on anecdotal evidence so far, but Psaki appeared to acknowledge Monday that many people are choosing not to return to the workforce—blaming factors other than the unemployment benefits.
Psaki said people are staying home because of issues like lagging vaccination rates for covid-19 and concerns about childcare.
Psaki emphasized, “There is also the need to pay a livable, working wage.”
“We don’t see much evidence that the extra unemployment insurance is a major driver in people not rejoining the workforce,” Psaki said. “There are other factors—bigger factors—that have been contributing to the numbers we saw on Friday.”
The Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress have come under pressure to end the benefits after the April jobs report was released on Friday, with the numbers extraordinarily underperforming economists’ expectations. The Labor Department reported 266,000 jobs were added, while economists were expecting around a million, and the number of unemployed Americans rose from 9.7 million in March to 9.8 million. Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) wasted no time in blaming the unemployment benefits for the poor jobs report, saying Friday that he plans to file a bill that would eliminate the $300-a-week payments by the end of this month. Marshall said in a statement: “Folks are staying at home due to the rich unemployment benefits,” and he was joined by several other Republicans in blasting the benefits. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce—the nation’s largest lobbying group—also called for the benefits to end in response to the jobs report.
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Federal benefits, which are paid on top of state benefits, are scheduled to continue until September 6—unless states opt out of the federal government’s supplemental unemployment benefits program.
The Republican governors of two states—South Carolina and Montana—have already announced they plan to stop the $300-a-week federal payments. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) announced his state would stop payments by the end of June, while Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) said that state would withdraw on June 27. Gianforte said Montana would instead offer a one-time $1,200 bonus for returning to work.