Republican governors don’t need a personal reason to cut off $300 a week in added unemployment aid for 4 million people. Making life harder for people struggling to get by is the Republican way. But some of the Republican governors who’ve announced they’re opting their states out of the federal unemployment supplement do have that personal reason, in the form of business interests.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is a major business owner in his state, and an executive at the Greenbrier, a historic resort he owns. Justice attributed an uptick in job applications to the planned cutoff of benefits, as well as to rising vaccination rates. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s family includes investors in a resort which he ran until he became governor. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is on the board of a family agricultural company. All of these businesses are advertising jobs.
Did any of them specifically consider what their businesses or family businesses wanted when making this decision affecting so many people in their states? They all deny it, and it’s probably true that it wasn’t anywhere close to the biggest factor in the decisions. But, as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s Noah Bookbinder told The Washington Post, “It doesn’t really matter if there were communications with the business about the decision. These people know what their business interests are.”
And more broadly, they see themselves as aligned with business—that’s who they know, who they identify with, who they take calls from. It’s the Republican way in ways that go to the core of who these politicians are.
But just as multiple studies have shown that added unemployment benefits aren’t keeping significant numbers of people from looking for work, the evidence that the Republican governors’ moves are having a significant impact on job applications is scant.
“I don’t think that the federal benefits are an end-all, be-all problem or solution,” the president of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association told The Washington Post. “The real challenge is we’re still at the tail end of the pandemic.” He said Sununu’s announcement about cutting off federal benefits had not made a “dramatic difference” in job applications.
The May jobs report showed unemployment dropping and more than half a million new jobs—but also that the economy is still 7.6 million jobs short of where it was in February 2020. And according to JPMorgan, it “looks like politics, not economics, is driving decisions regarding the early ends” to states accepting federal unemployment supplements. The states “announcing early ends all have Republican governors, and while some of these states have tight labor markets and strong earnings growth, many of them do not.”
Some people doubtless are being forced to look for work by the impending unemployment benefits cuts. The New York Times found a couple of them, but do these stories really make you think $300 a week is the problem? In Iowa, unemployed pizza delivery driver Bre Starr said, “I’m a Type 1 diabetic, so it’s really important for me to stay safe from getting Covid,” because she could be more vulnerable. She also helps care for her father, who has multiple conditions that put him at higher risk. “I know that for myself and other people who are high risk, we cannot risk going back into the work force until everything is good again.”
Starr is vaccinated, but less than 45% of Iowa’s population is fully vaccinated, and “A lot of people in Iowa don’t wear masks—they think that Covid is fake.”
Here’s a critical piece of information for the “benefits are too high so people think they don’t need jobs” crowd: Starr’s unemployment aid is hundreds of dollars less than she made at her last job. Not working is worth it for her because she is really concerned about safety.
Another unemployed person who talked to the Times had taken an even bigger pay cut—her unemployment aid is about half of her previous $50,000 salary. Amy Cabrera, who lives in Arizona, has a back problem that prevents her from working on her feet. She’s applied for around 100 jobs and gotten only one interview, and most of the jobs she’s qualified for in her area pay $15 an hour, too little for her rent and her share of her son’s college tuition.
But these are not the people whose calls Republican governors take. They take the calls of the business owners who are looking for job applicants desperate enough to take whatever pay is offered. They take the calls of their buddies from the country club—people like them, people whose desires feel familiar and right. And so even if they aren’t thinking explicitly about whether their own business profits will rise because of cutting off unemployment aid, they’re thinking from the point of view of the bosses, not the workers struggling to get by. And so those are the people being hurt.