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Surprise, Surprise, Ending Unemployment Benefits Early Didn’t Actually Get People Back to Work

Gee, who could've guessed?

A 'Help Wanted' sign is posted beside Coronavirus safety guidelines in front of a restaurant

This summer, while still in the midst of a global pandemic, 26 U.S. governors decided to cut off the supplemental unemployment insurance being offered by the federal government. They did this weeks before the assistance was set to end, cutting more than 2 million people off from an extra $300 per week at a time when unemployment was still sky-high.

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The reasoning, as was repeatedly echoed by pretty much every Fox News personality, was that the extra unemployment was encouraging people to stay home, be lazy, and not even try to find work. It’s an infantilizing, offensive argument so far removed from actual reality that it should never have gained traction, and yet here we are.

The people pushing this argument seem to have no idea that the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much happening. Hundreds of thousands of businesses have permanently closed and the competition for existing jobs is extremely tough.

As for those industries that are having trouble staffing up, if an extra $300 a week is truly enough to keep people from trying to work, then perhaps the problem is with employers and the types of conditions they’ve felt comfortable offering to their workers.

But it’s a lot easier for right-wing commentators to compare workers to lazy “dogs” than to examine this system, so that’s what they’re going to do. And more than two dozen governors—all but one of whom is a Republican—backed up their horrible ideas with harmful policy.

But according to new research, not only did cutting off federal assistance early not only have little to no impact on jobs numbers, it immediately caused a decrease in spending, hurting those states’ economies.

According to a new paper from economists and researchers at Columbia, Harvard, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the University of Toronto, 7 out of every 8 people who had their benefits cut off did not then find employment. Those unemployed people also cut their weekly spending by 20%, resulting in a $2 billion loss in those states between June and the beginning of August.

It’s almost as if treating unemployed people like “hungry dogs” isn’t going to be as beneficial (for them or society as a whole) as providing access to actual financial resources.

(via CNBC, image: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.