When the disastrous April jobs report came out, President Joe Biden was asked by a reporter whether or not the Democratic push to keep expanded $300 weekly federal unemployment checks contributed to the historic miss.
“No, nothing measurable,” Biden said during a media briefing on May 7, according to a transcript.
“I know some employers are having trouble filling jobs. But what this report shows is that there’s a much bigger problem. … It is that our economy still has 8 million fewer jobs than when this pandemic started. The data shows that more — more workers — more workers are looking for jobs, and many can’t find them. While jobs are coming back, there are still millions of people out there looking for work.”
That’s still the official administration line after two months of disappointing jobs numbers. The fact that the federal government is paying people not to work has nothing to do with the promised economic rebound falling flat, at least when it comes to jobs.
During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina wasn’t having it. As he questioned Shalanda Young, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, he said he had relatives who weren’t working because unemployment benefits were so high.
Graham was arguing that the benefits should be killed before they’re set to expire in September.
“There’s a lot of jobs out there that are unfilled and will never be filled until you change the benefit structure. Does that logic make sense to you, given where we’re at in our economy?” Graham asked Young.
“I understand the logic, but I’ve also not met Americans who would prefer not to work,” Young replied.
“There’s a dignity to work in this country.”
A chuckling Graham used his relatives to show why this is problematic.
“I got a lot of people in my family that ain’t working because they’re getting — I’ll show you some of my family,” Graham said.
“Bottom line is I think there are people out there, they’re not bad people, but they’re not going to work for $15 an hour if they make $23 unemployed,” he added.
“That doesn’t make you a bad person. If you’re working for $15 an hour, that makes you almost a chump.”
The expanded benefits have been part of a tug-of-war between the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill and in governor’s mansions.
As part of the American Rescue Plan, Biden kept the $300-a-week checks going through Sept. 6. As The New York Times reported last week, the administration has promised not to renew them, but has no plans to cancel the additional aid early.
However, many Republicans have seen enough, with 25 states having already ended the benefits starting this month.
In a Friday media briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said “that’s OK,” although the Biden administration still sees the $300 payments as an “extra helping hand.”
“Every governor is going to make their own decision,” Psaki told reporters.
That decision should become markedly easier when staring down two months of dreadful jobs reports. April is the month that sticks out; that’s when economists were expecting a million new jobs and the total was 278,000.
And let’s not forget May. The 559,000 jobs added still came in below expectations of 675,000 jobs.
Let’s also not forget that a roaring economy was set to be a Democratic talking point going into 2022.
Even though the Biden administration inherited a strong economy before lockdowns shuttered businesses, and even though the beginning of mass vaccinations was felicitously timed with Biden’s inauguration, the massive bounceback the White House was counting on hasn’t quite happened yet.
But the weekly $300 checks have nothing to do with it, they swear. After all, who wouldn’t choose the dignity of work over getting paid to sit on the couch?
It isn’t just Shalanda Young making this argument — during the May 7 media briefing on the April jobs numbers, Biden claimed “most middle-class, working-class people that I know think the way my dad did.
“He used to say — and I know I’m repeating myself, but I’m going to continue to because I think it’s critical. ‘A job is a lot more than a paycheck,’ he’d say. ‘Joey, it’s about your respect, your dignity, your place in the community.’ More than a paycheck. It’s people’s pride. It’s about being able to look at your child in the eye and say, ‘Honey, it’s going to be OK.’”
I know, empurpled prose like that makes the tears well up in your eyes. However, if you stay at home for $23 an hour instead of working for $15 an hour, it’s a lot easier to look your child in the eye and say, “Honey, it’s going to be OK.”
Yes, a job might be “people’s pride.” It’s not the kind of pride that goeth before the fall, but it’s the kind of pride that, in this case, goeth before making considerably less money for doing actual work.
Now, was Graham making a rhetorical point, throwing his family under the bus, or both? Whatever the case, one hopes they — as well as millions of other Americans — get off the dole with all due rapidity.
In a country where anyone over 12 can get a vaccine with ease and employers are desperately looking for workers, the federal government needn’t be throwing $300 a week at the unemployed in the name of recovery.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.