At restaurants across the country – from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Worth the detour, Texas – the same sign appears: “We are understaffed. Please be patient with the staff who have introduced themselves. Nobody wants to work anymore. “
The implication is that increased federal unemployment benefits of $ 300 each week keep people at home rather than behind cash registers and in fast food kitchens.
This is a concern shared by independent business owners in interviews with local and national media, fearing that their efforts to raise wages and increase benefits will attract the workers they need as the restrictions apply. of Covid-19 are declining and consumer spending is increasing.
Unfortunately for them, what is happening is a feature, not a bug, of the American economic system and the blame cannot entirely be put on a weekly check for $ 300.
University of Pennsylvania economist Ioana Marinescu said, “Without the benefits there would probably be a few more applicants and hiring would be a little easier, but the main driver of the recent change is feeling is that hiring is accelerating. . “
Job vacancies hit a two-year high in February, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Openings and Workforce Turnover Survey released last month. And in March, employers added nearly a million new jobs, with many economists expecting similar or better gains in the April Jobs report on Friday.
If job postings accelerate faster than people apply, business owners will suffer. The pandemic has added some quirks to this economic reality.
It is true that a group of people would rather stay at home for a few months to earn as much or more unemployment than thawing meat patties or answering the phone.
But future employees are also concerned about safety – 46% of the population has not received a single dose of the vaccine and the spread of Covid-19 is unchecked in the United States. Potential employees also have caregiving responsibilities: this recession has disproportionately affected women, who largely take on these roles and by the end of March, more than half of schools were still practicing distance learning or a combination of distance and in-person courses.
Others, like LaShanta Knowles in Cleveland, Ohio, use their job loss as an opportunity to do something different.
Until September, Knowles had worked the same job at a relocation services company for seven years, miserable and unsupported, never receiving attention except for doing wrong.
“I stayed out of my comfort zone and out of fear if this job didn’t want me I didn’t think anyone else would,” Knowles said. “Fortunately, I haven’t felt this way since I went back to school.
This month, Knowles will receive a certification in web programming and development. Even with unemployment, the financial situation has been difficult, in part because Ohio has been inconsistent with unemployment payments.
This is a problem facing millions of people across the country because the benefit system is not equipped to respond to this recession. It’s such a problem that the Ohio Organizing Collaborative nonprofit has stepped in to help people like Knowles navigate the system and urge them to take action and ask for something better. And momentum is accelerating to consider a national reform of unemployment.
Ultimately, however, Knowles feels like luck is on his side. “Unemployment helped me orient myself on the path I should have taken,” Knowles said.
Unemployment benefits have also enabled unemployed people to help support the economy.
Researchers at the University of Chicago found that the increase in unemployment by $ 600 per week in 2020 allows people to spend money in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. This means that some of the same companies that complain about hiring might not be making as much money without unemployment.
The expansion is set to expire in early September and economists are watching what that means for business owners and low-wage workers, who continue to struggle as the economy recovers faster for high-wage workers. .
University of Massachusetts Amherst economist Arindrajit Dube said fiscal stimulus, including unemployment benefits, could lead to once-per-generation or two-generation wage increases and lower rates unemployment.
The last time this kind of wage growth occurred was in the late 1990s, when the labor market tightened, with many employers looking for fewer workers.
“You had a sufficiently tight job market, which led to widespread wage growth of the kind that we haven’t really seen since maybe the ’70s,” Dube said. “And that was unusual and yes, employers were having a hard time filling vacancies and they had to raise wages a lot and that’s OK”
In Cleveland, Knowles is very concerned about finding a job with her new certificate. She didn’t know when the unemployment boom ended, and when the Guardian informed her that it was September, she exclaimed: “I hope to find a job before!”