Look harder, Mr. President. The evidence is there for all to see.
The April jobs report fell short of expectations by more than 700,000 jobs. Normally, that would be a sign that employers are reluctant to hire. But that is not the case today. Job openings are at a record high. Employers are creating millions of jobs; they just can’t find workers to fill them.
How can that be? With coronavirus restrictions being lifted across the country, and vaccines available to anyone who wants them, Americans are venturing out, traveling, going to restaurants and living their lives again. Millions of Americans who were forced out of their jobs during the pandemic should be eager to return to work.
So why aren’t they? One reason is that by extending the federal unemployment supplement to September, Biden created a disincentive for millions of Americans to return to work. Even though Congress reduced the federal supplement from $600 to $300 a week, a recent paper estimates that 48 percent of workers still make more from unemployment benefits than they would from working.
This is especially true for those at the lower end of the income scale, such as restaurant workers. In an interview with a restaurant industry journal, Carl Howard, chief executive of the Fazoli’s restaurant chain, does the math. “In Ohio you can make $452 a week in unemployment,” he says. “The federal government is going to top that with $300. That’s $752 [a week]. If I pay $15 an hour, that’s $600.” In other words, even if he matches what Democrats say should be the federal minimum wage, he can’t compete with the unemployment office.
But that’s not all. While workers would have to pay taxes on that $600 in earned income, thanks to Biden they can get some of that $752 tax-free — because the president’s covid-19 relief legislation included a $10,200 tax exemption for individuals on unemployment, and $20,400 for married joint filers. Why would someone work long hours to earn $600 a week when they make more and pay less in taxes by doing nothing?
Is enhanced unemployment the only reason Americans are not filling the record number of job openings? Of course not. Another problem is Biden’s failure to push back on his allies, the teachers unions, and get U.S. schools reopened. According to the American Enterprise Institute’s “Return 2 Learn” tracker, less than half of all public schools are currently open for full-time in-person learning — and the numbers are even lower in school districts with high minority populations and high proportions of single mothers.
This is not only harming millions of American children; it also is preventing millions of American moms from rejoining the workforce. According to a Pew analysis, mothers of small children lost work at three times the rate of fathers during the pandemic — and job losses were even higher for single mothers of young children. If Biden wants to help these families, he should demand that the teachers unions agree to reopen our nation’s public schools — not next fall, but for summer learning, so that kids can make up lost ground and mothers can return to work.
As the Biden administration flails, Republican governors across the country are showing the way forward. In January, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law that requires every public and accredited private school in her state to offer in-person learning, five days a week. Governors in Arizona, Texas, Florida, West Virginia, South Carolina and other states also have directed schools to reopen. As a result, across the country, 59 percent of schools are fully reopened in districts that Donald Trump won compared with just 32 percent in districts won by Biden.
Similarly, Republican governors in South Carolina, Arkansas and Montana have announced that they are turning down the federal unemployment subsidies in their states starting at the end of June. In Montana, Gov. Greg Gianforte is going a step further by offering a one-time $1,200 “return to work” bonus to anyone who returns to work and completes at least four full weeks of paid employment. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Michael R. Strain suggests we should do the same on the federal level.
Early in the pandemic, when millions of businesses were ordered to close by the government, it made sense to give unemployed Americans additional help to make it through the lockdowns. But that is no longer the case. America is back open for business — or at least it would be if the Democrats’ policies weren’t holding it back.