A 'Help Wanted' sign is posted beside Coronavirus safety guidelines in front of a restaurant in Los Angeles, California on May 28, 2021. - Following over a year of restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, many jobs at restaurants, retail stores and bars remain unfilled, despite California's high unemployment rate, causing some owners to fear they will not be able to fully reopen by the June 15th date California has given for a full reopening of the economy. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Republicans made up a story about worker shortages and unemployment aid. Then reality caught up

Information about Republicans made up a story about worker shortages and unemployment aid. Then reality caught up

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In dozens of Republican-controlled states, the federal programs—including the additional $300 a week and programs extending benefits for additional weeks and to people like freelancers who usually aren’t eligible for unemployment aid—were cut off early. The federal unemployment aid expansion ended nationally in September. If the theory that people weren’t working because generous aid meant they didn’t need to held any water, the effects would have started being seen in the August jobs report and gone into full effect in the September jobs report. Instead, the August numbers were a disappointment, and so were the September ones.

In September, the labor force shrank for the first time since May, showing that rather than being pushed to apply for jobs by the benefits cliff, a lot of people still chose not to look for work. Even the director of fiscal policy at a conservative think tank admitted to CNN, “If unemployment benefits were the driving force behind labor market dynamics, then you would not have seen that effect.”

It wasn’t the $300 a week, after all. Workers had other reasons. All those studies showing that unemployment aid wasn’t keeping people from looking for work were right. Parents—especially mothers—with children at home were constrained in their work choices. People with health issues that made them especially vulnerable to COVID-19 didn’t feel safe going into workplaces where they wouldn’t be protected. And workers started looking for a better deal—one many employers resisted offering.

The story that business owners—especially restaurant owners—told again and again and again, drawing a steady stream of media coverage, was that workers were lazy and demanding too much. But the reality revealed by the data is that it was the business owners trying to get themselves access to cheap labor, and many U.S. workers aren’t interested in being cheap labor during a deadly pandemic.

A lot of people wanted those benefits cut because they believed it would make it easier to hire at lower wages,” University of Minnesota labor economist Aaron Sojourner told CNN. “But the top line data is not telling us that’s what happened.”

Writer Natalie Shure put it bluntly:


The Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz pointed to slowing wage growth that came alongside slower job growth as the delta variant took hold of the United States:

Chart showing how wage growth and labor demand have slowed in August-September 2021 as delta variant hit.

In short, Republican politicians and many business owners flat-out lied about what was going on with U.S. workers and the effects of expanded unemployment aid. Now we’re seeing the reality. They story they pushed was false—and we have to talk about who benefited from the story that workers were lazy and government aid was bad for the economy. 

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