Nearly 2 million Americans refusing jobs because unemployment benefits pay better

A recent survey of working-age adults appears to support mostly Republican governors who have opted to stop taking in extended unemployment benefits as part of a Democrat-passed COVID-19 relief bill earlier this year because the extra money is keeping people out of the workforce.

Earlier this summer, GOP governors said they chose to end the benefits early in response to business owners in their states who complained that the outsized benefits were paying better than they could, making it impossible to find workers.

At the time, many were criticized by Democrats and some economists who claimed federal additions to state unemployment benefits were not responsible for what became a record number of job openings.

But this week, a survey by polling firm Morning Consult appears to validate Republican governors’ claims, finding that some 1.8 Americans have purposely remained out of the workforce — have turned down job opportunities — specifically because they are making enough money on unemployment, Axios reported Wednesday.

“Of those actively collecting unemployment benefits, 29% said they turned down job offers during the pandemic. In response to a follow-up question, 45% of that group said they turned down jobs specifically because of the generosity of the benefits,” the outlet reported, citing the data, which was culled from a survey of 5,000 adults.

To reach its conclusions about those who have turned down work to continue collecting jobless benefits, Morning Consult extrapolated the 1.8 million figure from the 14.1 million adults who were collecting unemployment as of June 19.

“To be clear, this is in regards to any and all unemployment insurance benefits including the standard 26 weeks worth of benefits as well as the emergency benefits that are set to end by September,” Axios reported, adding that it’s not a sure thing that people who have turned down work will be able to find jobs when their benefits stop because many likely will have already been filled — or eliminated altogether.

Nevertheless, John Leer, Morning Consult chief economist, advises that his firm’s findings don’t necessarily mean that remaining states — 26 so far have ended benefits early — should move to immediately cut off federal unemployment assistance.

“Getting people to move from relying on unemployment insurance to wage income doesn’t just automatically happen,” Leer told Axios. “There’s going to be some searching and matching frictions at work.”

Still, many are of the mind that the enhanced benefits are in fact largely responsible for keeping an inordinate amount of Americans out of the workforce.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), in an exchange with acting Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, said in June that members of his own family weren’t taking jobs because of the outsized benefits.

“There’s a lot of jobs out there that are unfilled and will never be filled until you change the benefit structure,” Graham told Young during her testimony before the Senate Finance Committee. “Does that logic make sense to you, given where we’re at in our economy?”

“I understand the logic, but I’ve also not met Americans who would prefer not to work,” Young replied. “There’s a dignity to work in this country.”

“I got a lot of people in my family that ain’t working because they’re getting — I’ll show you some in my family,” Graham responded with a chuckle. “The bottom line is I think there are people out there who are not bad people, but they’re not going to work for $15 an hour if they make $23 unemployed.

“That doesn’t make you a bad person. If you’re working for $15 an hour, that makes you almost a chump,” he added.

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Jon Dougherty

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