Thanks to “Operation Warp Speed”, effective vaccines are available on demand to anyone who wants one. That means individuals and businesses are beginning to return to a degree of normalcy.
However, as I’ve made my annual tour through all of Iowa’s 99 counties, I’ve heard from business after business that they are desperate for workers, but job applicants are scarce. Those that do apply, often don’t show up for interviews.
Nationally, the economy added over 700,000 fewer jobs than expected last month. This is concerning as a vibrant labor market is vital to strong economy.
I get that some individuals, even after being vaccinated, may be leery of returning to the job market after a year of staying home to stay safe. But, the vaccines have been shown to virtually eliminate the chance of serious illness. Hopefully, the recent CDC guidance that reinforces this by easing mask guidelines will reassure individuals it’s safe to return to work.
However, Iowa employers repeatedly inform me that the biggest impediment to finding workers is the over-the-top unemployment benefits extended as part President Biden’s so-called COVID relief bill.
The simple fact is this: under that partisan COVID package, many individuals can earn more if they don’t work then if they do work. That’s wrong in principle, and has proven disastrous in practice.
As my Republican colleagues and I have warned for months, incentives matter. If you can earn more not-working than working, it makes perfect sense not to work. I don’t blame workers for taking that deal. I blame the government policy that puts them in this predicament.
Even prominent liberal economists have acknowledged the problems with continuing to provide increased unemployment benefits. For instance, President Obama’s former Chief Economic Advisor, Jason Furman, admitted that if he were in a low unemployment state, he would be “thinking seriously about whether paying people more to not work than to work was a good thing to continue doing.”
This is the case in Iowa, which has an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent. That’s low even in normal times, but it should be even lower as Iowa has more job openings than unemployed people. I stand firmly behind Governor Reynolds who recently announced Iowa would end its participation in the counter-productive enhanced unemployment benefit program, effective June 12.
President Biden talks about the government creating jobs by spending trillions of borrowed dollars, all while spending more borrowed money to pay people not to work. That fails the common sense test. In Iowa, the private sector is already creating more jobs than we can fill. The economy is poised to take off if the government just gets out of the way. Politicians should live by the same principle as doctors; “First, do no harm.”
We shouldn’t continue pandemic era policies longer than they are necessary. That will only slow our economic recovery. Just as the CDC updated its guidance based on the new reality, it’s time for Congress to conform its policies to the conditions on the ground.