Friday’s jobs report reflects a dynamic that businesses have raised alarm about for months: workers are choosing to stay at home.
The unemployment rate dipped to 5.8 percent and 561,000 jobs were added to the economy in May, but they are not enough. At this pace, it will take over a year for the labor market to get back to February 2020 levels according to economists.
Businesses are not waiting for Washington to fix this problem—namely ending the federal unemployment bonuses passed as part of the nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus plan this year that are incentivizing low-wage workers to remain at home. They are raising pay and expanding incentives to get workers back on the job.
Half of all states, notably all Republican-led, have also ended the $300 federal bonus for their unemployed residents as well as offering work bonuses.
Take a look at these unbelievable incentives being offered to workers right now:
- Jersey Mikes offers $10,000 for assistant manager positions, $5,000 for shift leaders, and $500 for full-time and part-time employees.
- One Arizona restaurant owner has offered to pay college tuition for full-time employees who come back to work.
- Suraya restaurant in Pennsylvania offers a $2,000 signing bonus for all new people.
- La Calaca Feliz, a Mexican restaurant, is offering a $2,000 bonus for line cooks and dishwashers and $1,000 signing bonus for servers and bartenders.
- Monarch Casino Resort Spa Black Hawk in Colorado is offering a $1,400 bonus on top of the state’s $1,200 bonus program.
- New Hampshire Public Radio reports that those who work full-time for eight consecutive weeks could get $1,000, and part-time workers could get $500.
- Universal Orlando Resort is offering a $750 signing bonus plus free park admission, discounts, and complimentary guest passes.
- In Delaware, Wawa gas stations offer $500 signing bonuses, plus free “shorti” hoagies each shift for new associates.
- Chipotle has introduced a $200 employee referral bonus for crew members and a $750 referral bonus for apprentices or general managers.
- Hard Rock Casino in Cincinnati is providing a $4,000 incentive bonus to dealers.
States are also offering cash payout to new workers:
- Arizona: Up to $2,000 after completing 10 weeks of work and three months of childcare assistance for those earning up to roughly $52,000 annually.
- Colorado: A $1,200 bonus to those who started work by May 29 and stick it out for two months.
- Montana: Up to $1,200 after completing four weeks of work.
- New Hampshire: Up to $1,000 after completing eight weeks of work for those who earn less than $25 per hour.
And some businesses are getting creative just trying to get people in the door for interviews… to no avail. A Florida McDonald’s is paying candidates $50 just for an interview and reported trouble getting candidates.
In a tight jobs market, employers raise pay to attract and retain workers. We call this upward pressure on wages. The problem now is that government incentives are distorting the labor market by paying workers to remain unemployed more than they would earn by working.
Even with these new generous incentives, companies report difficulty finding workers willing to take the jobs. That is limiting their ability to operate at full capacity and meet the rising demand from customers getting back outside and spending. Many restaurants, for example, are limiting their hours of service.
Perhaps some workers are worried about contracting coronavirus, but as vaccination rates increase, that should ease health concerns. There are also parents who need to remain at home for childcare reasons as schools were virtual and summer camps have remained closed for the summer. Ideally, full in-person learning should free workers, especially women, to return to the labor force.
However, the government cannot continue to pay workers to stay at home. The idea may have been a lifeline during the start of the pandemic, but now it’s a dead weight in the labor force.
Congress should consider pulling forward the end date on the benefits from September to June (or sooner). The other 25 states which have not chosen to end the federal bonus should do so. And all federal lawmakers need to pump the breaks on new stimulus checks and federal spending. If we want a full rebound, the government should not stand in the way.