Blames workers for not taking low-wage jobs
By TIM ROWDEN
In an act of surprising cruelty utterly detached from the reality facing working families, Gov. Mike Parson announced last week that he was ending the federal supplement to the state’s unemployment insurance – money that doesn’t cost the state a dime – in a misguided effort to strong-arm workers into taking low-wage jobs that employers have complained they cannot fill.
The state will stop paying the federally funded $300-per-week supplement and stop issuing payments under other federal unemployment relief programs, effective June 12.
“Continuing these programs only worsens the workforce issues we are currently facing,” Parson said at a news conference outside his Capitol Building office on May 11. “It is time we ended these programs that have incentivized people to stay out of the workforce.”
The cut to the $300-per-week boost to state unemployment benefits means unemployed Missourians still looking for a job that will pay enough to support their families will see their weekly payment drop from $620 to $320.
“For Governor Parsons to unilaterally stop a federally-funded $300 unemployment benefit is not only outrageous, it’s unconscionable,” said John Stiffler, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building & Construction Trades Council. “It will create an even worse hardship for families most in need. The argument that some won’t work because they can make more on unemployment is itself a damning criticism of the low paying jobs available right now. If employers want workers, let them pay a decent family-supporting wage. Few that I know enjoy taking unemployment. They would rather have a decent job. This is only the latest act by the ruling Republican class to turn their backs on the working people and families in Missouri.”
Parson is only the latest in a series of GOP governors that have decided to withdraw their states from the federal unemployment supplement and other pandemic relief programs. The others include the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina and Tennessee. Congress had extended the programs through Sept. 6, but Parson and other Republican governors are opting to exclude their states from the extension in response to complaints from some business owners that they can’t get workers to apply for their low-wage jobs.
‘IRRESPONSIBLE AND CRUEL’
Richard von Glahn, policy director of Missouri Jobs with Justice, said Missouri businesses complaining about not being able to recruit workers are only telling half the story.
“Businesses that are having a hard time finding workers need to look at what they are offering in terms of pay and benefits to see if they are competitive in the labor market,” von Glahn said.
“This action is fiscally irresponsible and cruel. Shredding the safety net doesn’t make families stronger, just more vulnerable to exploitation.”
Missouri House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (D Springfield) said businesses will attract more workers when they increase wages.
“The notion that Missourians are refusing to work so they can temporarily collect $300 a week is an offensive right-wing myth,” Quade said.
“Contrary to what the governor claims, the free market – not some federal boogeyman – is primarily responsible for Missouri’s tight labor market,” she said. “When there are more open jobs than available workers, businesses must increase wages to attract prospective employees, particularly in industries with a high risk of COVID-19 exposure. That’s how supply and demand works. If companies provide a livable wage, applicants will respond.”
U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-St. Louis County), who strongly supported the expanded unemployment benefits included in the American Rescue Plan, said Parson’s decision to cut those added benefits “is yet another massive failure that will put the lives and livelihoods of regular, everyday people at risk.”
“I know what it’s like to work 40, 50 or 60 hours a week and still not have enough to live,” Bush said. “My story is not unique; it’s one shared by thousands across our state. We cannot blame federal unemployment benefits for worker shortages. The only way our economy, our region and our country can heal from this pandemic is by treating workers with the respect and dignity they deserve, and that begins by paying them a living wage.”