In what may best be described as a “tough love” approach to the unemployed, several states are looking to dramatically cut unemployment benefits in a bid to force the out-of-work to fill thousands of available jobs.
According to a Labor Department report released Tuesday, there were more than 11.3 million jobs open as of the end of February, a number that marks the third-highest level of openings on record, Fox Business reported. During the month, 4.4 million Americans, representing 2.9% of the workforce, quit their jobs.
“That means there are roughly 5 million more openings than there are workers — or about 1.8 jobs per unemployed person,” noted Fox Business.
But as many companies and more than a few Republicans have pointed out, fewer people in the post-pandemic era are willing to take lower-wage positions, preferring instead to stay home and collect a healthy unemployment check.
Moves by lawmakers in Iowa, Kentucky, and West Virginia to chop the number of weeks people are eligible to collect unemployment benefits from 26 down to, in some cases, less than 10, hope to encourage more people to get out and find one of the many jobs that need filling.
So far, only six states have such severe restrictions on their eligibility limits. While 40 states pay up to the 26-week limit, Arkansas and Kansas pay up to just 16 weeks; Alabama and Georgia allow up to 14 weeks, and Florida and North Carolina cut off benefits after 12 weeks of unemployment.
In Iowa, for example, an unemployed individual with no dependents can currently collect up to $531 per week, or nearly double the state’s $7.26 minimum wage.
A measure supported by Republican state lawmakers would cut Iowa’s allowable unemployment payments from 26 weeks to 16 weeks.
While the state has an estimated 86,000 open jobs, Democrats oppose the bill on the grounds that only one-third of those open jobs offer a wage that can support a family of four.
“You are breaking something that is working for Iowans,” Democratic Sen. Janet Petersen said, calling the bill “heartless.”
In Kentucky, Republican lawmakers are in a similar situation. The state offers weekly unemployment benefits that are about double what the weekly minimum wage pays.
“Last week, GOP lawmakers in the state voted to override Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of an unemployment measure that would cut benefits from 26 weeks of eligibility to as few as 12 weeks,” Fox Business reported.
Meanwhile, senators in West Virginia passed a bill limiting their unemployment benefits to 12 weeks and requiring that recipients prove they are actually seeking employment.
The bill does include a caveat that could extend jobless benefits to 20 weeks should the unemployment rate in the state increase.
“We need to make our unemployment compensation system less expensive,” said Republican Sen. Charles Trump. “That’s a big part of being able to grow business.”
The unemployed in West Virginia are eligible for up to $424 per week in benefits, compared to the $328 they would earn at a minimum-wage job.
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