by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
House Democrats from swing districts are admitting that enhanced unemployment benefits are keeping American workers at home—just months after they touted their work to extend the provision.
In town halls and local interviews, Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), John Garamendi (Calif.), Cindy Axne (Iowa), and Andy Kim (N.J.) all tied the expanded payments to April’s hiring shortfall. The U.S. economy added just 266,000 jobs in April, a significant drop from the 770,000 added in March and far below the nearly 1,000,000 jobs economists expected to see. Weeks later, 440,000 American workers filed unemployment claims.
“Every single business owner that I know that has reached out to me has talked about this as their number one issue,” Slotkin said Tuesday in response to concerns that “boosted federal unemployment” is hindering employers’ ability to fill vacancies. “They want to make money, they want to be open, but they’re having a problem getting people.”
The Michigan Democrat’s comments undermine President Joe Biden, who has repeatedly rejected any link between the enhanced benefits and sputtering U.S. job creation. Following April’s underwhelming jobs report, Biden said those who “claim Americans won’t work, even if they find a good and fair opportunity, underestimate the American people.” At the same time, however, the president directed his Labor Department to help reinstate laws that bar workers from receiving unemployment if they reject a suitable job offer.
Not all Democrats are convinced the effort will drive people back into the workforce. Just days after Biden’s directive, Garamendi said such work-search requirements—which were suspended during the coronavirus pandemic—are “not really enforced very often.” …
Garamendi defended his support for extending the enhanced payments through Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. … But the Democrat conceded that some states “might be able to scale back the expanded unemployment benefit” before it officially expires in September—a position that puts him at odds with the Biden administration, which has opposed decisions from GOP governors to withdraw from receiving the federal benefits.