In a sense, April’s numbers should be unsurprising, since there are good reasons the boom may be taking a while to get off the ground. There are supply chain problems hindering manufacturing, like the availability of semiconductors — but that will eventually be worked out. With many schools still not fully open, child care challenges are delaying workers from accepting jobs — but that too will likely be far less of a problem come September when the new school year begins.
But Republicans have seized on anecdotal reports of employers — particularly low-wage employers — having trouble filling open positions to lay the foundation for a broad assault on President Biden’s entire approach.
Republicans, on the other hand, want to tell a story in which this is an unfolding tragedy created by giving stimulus checks and unemployment benefits to lazy moochers who now refuse to work.
“We have flooded the zone with checks,” says Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), adding that “it’s actually more lucrative for many Kentuckians and Americans to not work than work.”
It’s true that some people getting unemployment benefits may wait for a position that suits their qualifications and goals rather than taking the first available job. But in the long run, that’s a good thing. If I’m an unemployed engineer, it’s better for me and the whole economy if I wait and get an engineering job rather than work at Arby’s.
It’s awfully rich to hear these arguments coming from Republicans, who are so committed to making work as miserable and unremunerative as possible. They fight against raising the minimum wage, against paid family leave, against collective bargaining, against worker safety regulations, against providing child care, and against universal health coverage, then ask why every last unemployed person isn’t rushing back to take any job they can find.
The nightmare scenario for Republicans goes like this. The covid-19 relief bill was already hugely popular. Then the Democrats pass the infrastructure and families plans, which before long provide benefits people can see in their communities and lives. With continued vaccinations, something like normal life returns. The economy roars back, and Biden gets the credit whether he deserves it or not. Democrats hold control of Congress in 2022, and Biden is reelected in 2024.
To avert that series of events, Republicans want to start by revising people’s understanding of the American Rescue Plan. Instead of a much-needed emergency measure that helped you and everyone you care about, they want you to think of it as a needless orgy of government waste, and a giant gift to people who didn’t need it. Then they can convince you that the infrastructure plans are just more of the same.
This is an old conservative tactic: Discredit government spending by characterizing its recipients as contemptible layabouts. It can work, even if, in a case like this one, everyone got the same benefit. I deserved that $1,400, some will say, but my cousin who plays video games all day? He’s what’s wrong with this country. Republicans, whose primary goal is to ease the burdens life places on the virtuous rich, have long practice in getting people to aim their resentments downward.
But the reality is that if the economy really is having trouble taking off — if April’s job numbers aren’t just a blip — it makes a compelling case for the Democrats’ proposals. If there are still millions unemployed, why not put people to work in good-paying jobs building bridges and installing solar panels? And if some are having trouble returning to work, why not create the conditions where the decision to do so won’t be so hard?
Women, especially single mothers, have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic recession; many worked in industries like hospitality that haven’t yet recovered, and their family situations make returning to work difficult. So wouldn’t creating affordable child care not only help them now but make them better able to weather the next recession?
The Republican answer is an emphatic No: That single mother and the Democrats who coddle her are the problem. What she deserves is a stern lecture on bootstrap-tugging. Her only path to success is through a healthy bit of deprivation and misery. And if they can convince enough people to sneer at her, they might be able to turn the political tide.