Despite labor shortages, unemployment rates slim

Ending additional unemployment benefits may have not gone as Republicans originally planned. Labor is at a standstill for many Americans.

Earlier this year, both sides of the aisle were embroiled in a debate concerning the extension of unemployment aid as outlined in the 2021 American Emergency Act. While Democrats advocated to maintain benefits, Republicans disapproved. Officials from 25 GOP-led states including Arkansas and Mississippi claimed the additional benefits would discourage Americans from going back to work. 

Contrary to their GOP predictions, continued benefits did not discourage significant employment reentry. Due to this, more than 1.9 million of their constituents may have been at a loss three months before other regions. 

“It has become clear to me that we cannot have a full economic recovery until we get the thousands of available jobs in our state filled,” tweeted the Republican governor of Mississippi Tate Reeves

After speaking with various small business owners in the state, the governor claims, “[It] is clear to me that Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is (PUA) and other like programs passed by the Congress may have been helpful in May of last year, but are no longer so in May of this year.” Mississippi ended their extended benefits in June 2021. Since, their unemployment rate has remained relatively consistent

April 2021 saw slow employment growth and a fraction of a percent increase in the national unemployment rate. The numbers show a decrease from the April 2020 peak of 14.8 percent in April 2020, the highest level since the Great Depression. Hence, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sided with Republicans and called to end the $300-per-week federal benefit

Ultimately, the Republican-led charge caused severe income cuts for more than 1.9 million people including self-employed or gig-workers. A decision opponents like Government affairs Director of the National Employment Law Project, Judy Conti, calls “ill-informed and cruel.” Especially, since the emergency unemployment aid was cut in states like New Jersey on September 4, three months after that of Mississippi.

Now, there are 8.4 million unemployed people in the wake of pandemic-era supply chain shortages in industries like food. Coupled with Biden’s recent six point plan to tackle pandemic-related issues including vaccination mandates, many are opting out of work anyway.  

Results 

The Biden Administration has been urging employers to do what they can to get Americans back to work. An economic plan they claim is working

When asked if the increased emergency benefits saw a decrease in employment rates in a press conference, President Biden simply replied, “No. Nothing measurable. The Democratic president said in another press conference, “We’re going to make it clear that anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits.” 

Currently, the total number of unemployed Americans sits at 5.2 percent. In August 2021, the Bureau of Labor statistics reported the unemployment rate declined by 0.2 percent, following a significant July decrease. The number of permanent job losers in August also saw a decline of approximately 443,000. Thus far, monthly job growth has averaged 586,000 in 2021. 

“Both measures are down considerably from their highs at the end of the February-April 2020 recession. However, they remain above their levels prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.”

“Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (5.1 percent) and Whites (4.5 percent) declined in August . . . [however t]he jobless rates for adult women (4.8 percent), Blacks (8.8 percent), Asians (4.6 percent), and Hispanics (6.4 percent) showed little change over the month.” 

Your fault?

Despite this rise in employment, employers still have issues finding and keeping employees. Many workers claim it is their own fault.

“This COVID shit, man. I never met someone who was that cold, that rude,” laments food industry worker Diamante Culver of a recent job interview to the Ark. “When people are looking [for jobs], they don’t give it to them.” 

A Black woman and small business owner of Euphoric Bites, says Culver supplements her business via a 9-to-5 job; a plight costing her money on both ends. As well, she cites employers’ lack of value for workers or their skills. 

“[P]eople do not take [small businesses] seriously because it is not a major corporation. In jobs now, they are not trying to hire people who have experience, they are hiring just to fill the staffing that they don’t have.” 

Affected income, demographics

COVID-19 has only worsened the effects on all major races and across all industries and socioeconomic levels. Yet, the underclass took the biggest hit both domestically and around the world. 

Human Rights Watch points out, “Low-income households were particularly likely to have lost work or income.” They added, “Among households making less than $35,000 a year, 57.3 percent experienced income or employment loss during the pandemic, compared with 34.6 percent of those making more than $150,000 a year.”

In addition, the most economically vulnerable before the pandemic—namely, Black and Latino populations—continue to suffer. “Blacks and Hispanics, reached historic lows in their poverty rates in 2019. The poverty rate for Blacks was 18.8%; for Hispanics, it was 15.7%,” according to the latest U.S. Census report

. . . . 

Republicans may have jumped the gun on ending economic support for their constituencies, a possible political chess move they will remember at next year’s polls.

For now, some federal and local state programs are in place to aid those in need. For example, the Advance Child Tax Credit Payments to help American households with monthly stipends. Children must be under 18 by the end of 2021 and must have a valid social security number to receive benefits. That said, all eyes are on the capital to see how they continue to help democracy in light of multiple COVID-19 variants and a flu season rapidly approaching.

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, and Afro-Latinidad.

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