The COVID-19 pandemic struck Americans like a bolt out of the blue. The consequential lockdowns and ceasing of business activities have resulted in one of the worst slowdowns in the US economy. Millions of Americans have since lost their jobs, and over 50 million workers have filed for unemployed since March. The federal government has taken due steps to pump money into the economy, while also looking out for the workers' welfare.
Since March, the federal government has rolled out enhanced unemployment benefits for many workers. Under the plan, many received an extra $600 above their usual unemployment benefits. Additionally, the small businesses were also provided with stimulus and loans to keep them from laying off workers or shuttering their business forever. As some states have started to reopen their economies cautiously, some of these benefits have started drying up. Businesses too have exhausted the funds they borrowed to keep workers on the payroll. Even as business and manufacturing pick up, America should expect considerable layoffs across the spectrum in the coming future.
Workers in the United States, who claim unemployment benefits from the state or federal government are by law required to keep a log of their job search efforts. While the specifics vary from state to state, the basic requirement for work search reporting is in place to ensure people claiming unemployment benefits are ready, willing and available to work when offered work, and do not just live-off the benefit funds.
Beginning March, this requirement was waived off as many workers lost their jobs and had to stay-at-home until cities shut down to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Lawmakers across the country have argued that unemployment benefits are discouraging many Americans from looking for a job. An active workforce is the need of the hour if the country is to crawl out of the economic slowdown.
While the health concerns of venturing out and socializing are still as real as they were four months ago, states are increasingly beginning to realize that the economy, as well as workers, cannot stay in a dormant state forever. To that effect, many states are such as Nebraska and Washington are looking to call-off the waiver on job-search requirements after the extra $600 unemployment benefit ends in the last week of July.
California has currently steered clear of wanting to bring back the work-search requirements in any form as the state has over 390,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Even as the state added the most jobs of any state as it started opening its economy in phases, the unemployment rate is still pretty high at 14.9%. The state added over a quarter of the jobs lost during closures and lockdowns in April and May. There is more uncertainty than optimism as the state has seen a resurgence in the number of cases.
Nebraska is making reporting job-search mandatory for all unemployment claimants except certain exemptions such as workers with an employer-confirmed recall date within 112 days of their layoff, union workers, etc. Missouri too has reinstated the requirement starting from the first week of July. The state now requires claimants to show job applications either directly to the employer or through job sites as proof when filing for the weekly payment request.
The state of Texas was all set to restore the job-search requirement from July 6th. After a resurgence of positive COVID-19 cases in the state though, the Texas Workforce Commission decided to push it back. New Mexico also hasn't made work-search requirement essential as of now. The Secretary of the Department of Workforce Solutions has made it amply clear that the state would not rush into opening businesses as of now, and might now even see a full reopen until the virus is under control.
A heated debate has ensued amongst Wisconsin lawmakers who are split if the waived-off requirements should be restored so early. While the state's unemployment rate is improving as it slowly opens its economy, it is having a hard time processing all the benefit claims amidst the pandemic.
The waiving off of job-search requirements by most states presents a unique challenge for many workers under the present circumstances. Most states are reopening their economies in phases, and the risk of community infection still looms large.
COVID-19 hasn't entirely gone away, nor will it any time soon, as can be seen from the resurgence in numbers in many parts of the country. For workers to go out looking for jobs and give job interviews in this atmosphere is a double-edged sword. If they don't, they risk losing their unemployment benefits. If they do, they risk getting infected.
Lawmakers need to strike a fine balance between economic wellbeing and workers' benefits in these challenging times. Ultimately, only when the businesses open and workers rejoin can the economy recover. But decisions that might cause the states to lose out on a skilled workforce by exposing them to the virus also need to be avoided at all costs