It’s bad enough when politicians enact witless economic policies with huge price tags, but it’s even worse when those policies destroy American lives and livelihoods. New research shows that this will be the pandemic-era legacy of the politicians that forcibly closed businesses, made people stay home, then incentivized millions of out-of-work Americans to give up the opportunity to get their lives back on track.
It’s now clear that half the states kept destructive policies in place even after their devastating effects were known. What should have been a temporary bridge to keep people afloat while America tackled COVID-19 became a nightmare of dependence and depression.
In March of 2020, the federal government began paying weekly “bonuses” known as supplemental insurance to people on unemployment. That meant many people received more money from unemployment insurance than they did while working. It was even expanded to include those who hadn’t paid into the program.
By the fall, the country began emerging from the pandemic, vaccines became available, and business started to open again and look for workers. The speed of American resilience was something to behold. But the government refused to make the transition with the rest of the country and kept paying people to stay home.
Eliminating people’s jobs and paying them to be unemployed was robbing millions of Americans of the dignity that comes with finding purpose and achieving self-sufficiency. It destroyed lives, driving dependency on government, contributing to drug and alcohol addiction, and exacerbating isolation and depression.
These effects of the program were blatantly obvious through the spring of 2021 but that didn’t stop the Biden Administration and Congress from extending the benefits through September. By the summer of 2021, the nation had nearly 11 million unfilled jobs, a spike from just under 7.2 million at the beginning of the year.
That’s why 26 states decided to terminate the unemployment bonuses early instead of letting them expire in September 2021. At the time, some in the media portrayed the move as cruel, ripping critical funds away from those struggling during the pandemic.
But new research from the Texas Public Policy Foundation shows that the states that ended the benefits early had superior job growth, ending the soul-crushing dependency inflicted upon millions by the misguided policy. By the end of 2021, only Texas and three other states that ended the bonuses early had regained all the jobs that they lost during the pandemic.
In the states that continued paying the unemployment bonuses through September 2021, job growth was anemic. Roughly 3 million more people stayed on unemployment in states that maintained the increase in benefits versus the states that ended the program early.
The states that continued this policy deserve particular scorn for going down this fatuous path because they should have known better. The unemployment bonuses were first implemented in 2020 during the depths of the government-imposed restrictions and the disastrous results were known a year later. Yet they pushed forward full throttle irrespective of the harm it was causing to millions of Americans.
There were better solutions.
Early in the pandemic when much wasn’t known, Congress could have eliminated federal payroll taxes. Instead of creating a new disincentive to work, policymakers could have removed an existing disincentive and let workers keep more of what they earned. A July 2020 study found that eliminating payroll taxes would have added 2.7 million jobs in six months.
Later, after we learned more about the pandemic and the costs of shutdowns, the Biden administration should have focused on ending state government-imposed shutdowns. These shutdowns were a failure that did little to nothing to mitigate the pandemic’s effects yet contributed to massive business closures and job losses, along with a host of other problems that will be long-lasting..
The experiment with unemployment “bonuses” should be closed and never opened again. It unnecessarily prolonged the economic devastation brought on the country by the pandemic and slowed the path to recovery for millions of Americans. Job creation proved to be the fastest road to provide help and hope.
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Vance Ginn, Ph.D.