Earlier this month, Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Lee announced that he, like many other Republican governors across the country, would be ending extra unemployment benefits for workers as provided by the federal government. The spurious justification given by Lee and other GOP governors was that people were making too much money off unemployment to want to return to work.
But new findings from Tennessee Senate Democrats shows that the real reason for people not being able to or wanting to return to work may be because the available jobs pay far too little.
Lee, the Democrats point out, often points to the 250,000 jobs that are listed on Tennessee’s job portal as reasoning for ending the extra unemployment benefits. “When we have 250,000 job openings in the state and we are paying people to stay home, that needs to change,” he said earlier in June.
Of those jobs, however, only about 8,500 list paying a salary of over $20,000 — which amounts to only about 3 percent of the available jobs that Lee so likes to tout.
It’s possible that many of these job listings simply don’t publicize the salary in the post. However, the Democrats also point out that a majority of the jobs are older than a month, meaning some of them may no longer be available. Meanwhile, the number of new job postings are far less than the number of people unemployed.
Meanwhile, as the Tennessee Democrats and many Democrats and progressives across the country have pointed out, ending unemployment benefits does more to hurt workers than it does to help the economy. The U.S. Congressional Joint Economic Committee found early in June that Republican governors ending extra unemployment benefits could cause their states to lose out on $12 billion in revenue.
Workers are not only hurt in the short term by this decision, but potentially also the long term. “Cutting benefits early in order to push people into jobs that don’t work for them (e.g. pay too little, endanger their health, are not geographically proximate, etc.) risks reducing demand in local economies, foregoing [sic] the potential for future better earnings, and ultimately constricting the economic recovery from the coronavirus recession,” the report found.
Indeed, as employers complain about a supposed worker shortage, reports and some businesses have found that the real issue is the unreasonable wages being offered by employers. A May report on the food industry found that the most common reason for restaurant employees to quit or leave the industry altogether is low wages.
Some business owners have even found that when they offer starting wages of $15 an hour or higher, they have more applicants than they can hire.
Still, Republicans have stuck with the now disproven talking point that unemployment benefits stop people from seeking work, much to the detriment of workers across the country.
Nationwide, food banks are reportedly bracing for a surge in demand as the GOP governors end extra unemployment benefits, the Guardian reports. The Census Bureau reported in May that 19.3 million Americans haven’t felt they’ve had enough to eat at some point in the past week, which is about 2.5 times the number of Americans who felt the same in 2019.
That number could increase when nearly 4 million people lose their unemployment benefits as states with Republican governors follow through on their threat to end the benefits early.
“We are still distributing about a million to a million and a half more meals each month than we did pre Covid,” Teresa Schryver, advocacy manager for a St. Louis food bank, told the Guardian. “We might see a spike again in July and August as we’re losing the unemployment benefits here in Missouri, so we might be doing 2m meals again for a couple of months.” Schryver added that it took food insecurity rates 10 years to bounce back from the 2008 recession and that the fallout from the pandemic will likely follow the same path.