Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) criticized a Republican colleague on Thursday, pointing out that the GOP’s stance on unemployment insurance is not only misguided but factually incorrect.
Her criticism was in response to a statement by Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tennessee), who tweeted, “4.3 million workers quit their jobs. We need to quit paying folks not to work.” His tweet refers to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that a record number of people quit their jobs in August. But most people who quit their jobs aren’t eligible to collect unemployment benefits — and the unemployment insurance program that Burchett is likely referring to has already ended.
“Y’all already [ended unemployment insurance] over a month ago despite everyone having data that ending [unemployment insurance] doesn’t push people back to work,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response. “Conservatives love to act like they’re ‘fiscally savvy’ yet remain puzzled as to why people can’t work a job whose pay won’t even cover the childcare costs to work.”
Despite Burchett’s declaration that “paying folks not to work” decreases employment rates, the past few months have borne evidence that the opposite is true: Unemployment insurance has actually improved employment rates. This summer, 26 states ended extra unemployment aid early; those states went on to experience slower employment growth than the states that kept the program through the beginning of September
The pandemic has been challenging for working parents — particularly for women, who often bear a disproportionate burden when it comes to childcare. Reports have found that 1 in 4 women are considering quitting or reducing their hours in order to help take care of their children.
Meanwhile, paying for childcare is becoming increasingly inaccessible. Last month, the Treasury Department wrote that the current system of low wages and skyrocketing childcare costs is unsustainable. The average family with a child under 5 must spend around 13 percent of their family’s income on childcare, the Treasury found — an amount well past the 7 percent of a family’s income that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) deems affordable for childcare.
Ocasio-Cortez went on to explain that the GOP’s refusal to understand why workers are quitting in droves is contradictory to their stated beliefs about the way the economy works.
“Quitting being [unemployment insurance] ineligible aside, the idea that laziness is why people stay home contradicts the ‘free market ideals’ these folks pretend to champion,” she wrote. “Markets apply to labor, too. If supply is low and demand high, price goes up. People seem to accept that for everything but wages.”
Workers, especially those with frontline jobs, have indeed cited low wages as a reason to consider quitting their jobs during the pandemic. A report in May found that of the 53 percent of restaurant workers surveyed who said they have considered quitting, 76 percent cited low wages and tips as a top reason why.
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has also pointed out that the conservative “worker shortage” myth is likely more attributable to labor market dynamics.
“When restaurant owners can’t find workers to fill openings at wages that aren’t meaningfully higher than they were before the pandemic — even though the jobs are inherently more stressful and potentially dangerous because workers now have to deal with anti-maskers and ongoing health concerns — that’s not a labor shortage, that’s the market functioning,” EPI wrote in May. “The wages for a harder, riskier job should be higher.”
Ocasio-Cortez concluded by pointing out that the reasoning behind people’s employment decisions often isn’t as simple as the GOP implies. “And by the way, free time is VALUABLE,” she said. “People pay for time routinely, whether it’s in delivery, services, etc. It’s not lazy to stay home with family — it can lower costs. 700k+ people in the US have died of COVID so far. Do people think that has no impact on labor supply/capacity?”
Last month, Ocasio-Cortez introduced a bill that would extend unemployment benefits until February of next year and would make payments retroactive to September, when the benefits expired. Though lawmakers neglected to reinstate the federal unemployment program, the Census Bureau found that the program kept 5.5 million people from experiencing poverty in 2020.
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