Friday, April 9, 2021

Data Suggest That Elevated Unemployment Benefits Cause People To Stay Fat, Happy and at Home

 Ryan Bourne and Erin Partin in a recent article point to data that show the not surprising fact that if you pay people more to stay at home than work, they will stay at home and not work:

Last week’s job market numbers were strong. The unemployment rate fell to 6.0 percent – the lowest since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – and total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 916,000 in March. But signs already suggest that the employment bounce-back is being restrained from its full potential by Congress’s decision to entrench a $300 weekly unemployment benefit supplement through September.

Combined with state unemployment benefits, around 37 percent of workers can currently make more unemployed than in work. A low-income worker in Massachusetts previously earning $535 per week faced a pre-pandemic replacement rate of unemployment insurance benefits to earnings of 48 percent ($257). Now, the same worker would obtain benefits worth 104 percent of their pre-recession earnings ($557).
In New Mexico, someone previously earning $342 per week would see a replacement rate of 141 percent from the expanded benefits ($483). The disincentive to work this creates reduces the labor supply, raising market wages but by squeezing employment levels as fewer workers make themselves available for job opportunities that are economic to offer for businesses...
  1. Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor, reports that job search activity on Google fell by 15 percent in early March, with the decline starting just before the American Rescue Plan passed that extended elevated unemployment benefits. The search activity rate remains 10 percent down even now—a trend not observed in 2019, which cannot be explained by COVID prevalence across states, and which we wouldn’t expect as the economy reopens and job opportunities expand (see figure).


  1. Contacts to regional Federal Reserve Banks report issues with unemployment benefits deterring job re-entry, according to the most recent Beige Book. The Chicago Fed says “Several contacts expressed concern that unemployment benefits were putting a damper on worker availability.”

    The St. Louis Fed: “Contacts noted stagnant or declining employment, especially among small businesses and leisure and hospitality firms, with continuing closures in a slower-than-expected recovery. Transportation and manufacturing firms reported their desire to expand their workforce has been stymied by a scarcity of workers. Many contacts ascribed this scarcity to unemployment benefits and other government aid.”

    The Minneapolis Fed: “Despite increased job openings, labor supply constraints contributed to a continued disconnect between workers and opportunities… Some contacts said the prospective continuation of enhanced unemployment benefits created a disincentive to return to work.”

  2. Daily, one runs into stories of businesses struggling to hire new workers. But this now extends far beyond anecdote. The National Federation of Independent Business in March reported a record-high share of 42 percent of small businesses surveyed who said they couldn’t fill a job opening—much higher than the average figure of 22 percent since 1974, despite elevated unemployment. A massive 91 percent of respondents said they had few or no qualified applicants for job openings in the past three months, one of the highest values since that question was surveyed.

In some cases, this will mean businesses will raise wages which will result in higher prices for consumer goods and services. In other cases, it will result in businesses cutting back on supply of goods and services, resulting in supply bottlenecks and higher prices.

The work disincentives in the American Rescue Plan is a bizarre framework that sets up a unique form of stagflation where prices climb, the stock market climbs and unemployment remains high.



  1. We have a small construction company that works in much of SoCal for many of the largest home builders in the nation. Labor, for the most part I am referring to skilled labor, is very hard to find. We have been raising wages and still cannot find enough labor to do as much work as we can and would like to manage. Back in the roaring 2000’s we had 85 field laborers. Since the Great Recession we have not been able to consistently keep more than 30 field laborers.

    Many laborers play the system. They are in the habit of working “over the table” until they have built up some unemployment insurance and then taking some time off from their employer of record to collect that insurance while working for cash.

    It’s hard to make an argument against this tactic that allows them to make more and do less. This is not a new tactic but, it is much more widespread now. I now see this as the norm for labor. The only drawback I can see for labor is that I and many other employers will treat these on/off laborers different than we treat the more traditional labor. If a laborer is going to leave us high and dry based on their ability to collect government handouts they will be the first to be left behind by their employer. At this point the market, in its distorted state, is a labor market.

    1. Hopefully the Harris administration can import more Somalis so you'll have more skilled workers to alleviate the shortages. The whites who are abusing the unemployment benefits need to be put into some sort of prison camp.

    2. One white guy. The rest of our field labor are Latinequis.

      Latinequis is a joke on LatinX and the woke pronoun police. Equis is X in Spanish. Even the term pronoun police would have to be pronombrX policiX in Spanish to meet this gender neutral Nazis idiocracy. Something similar is true for almost all Latin based languages such as Italian, French and Portuguese.

  2. I just saw a now hiring sign at a Papa Johns offering a $250 bonus after 30 days. I don’t think that’s enough to compete with the fed’s $300 per week bonus.

  3. It is a cycle. Inflation Costs going up. Then Can't get a job that pays enough. Game the system to survive. Causes inneficiencis in labor market, results in more money printing to coverup the problem, inflation costs rise again.