For the sake of Florida’s economy, policymakers must push back against dependency
Florida’s economy has been reopened for months, with help wanted ads abound. So why can’t businesses fill their empty positions?
The answer lies with the federal government’s harmful expansion of unemployment insurance (UI) bonuses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns.
This unprecedented expansion of cash benefits has created a crisis of dependency that is hurting Floridians and stifling the economic recovery.
When we briefly shut down in the early days of the pandemic, many people likely assumed that, once the worst of the pandemic had passed, the economy would come roaring back.
If it weren’t for the federal government’s dizzying interference, that might be true.
Some industries have seen a boom. Others, like the restaurant and hospitality industries, post job ad after job ad only to be met with crickets. Even right here in Florida, there are as many as 400,000 open jobs that businesses are struggling to fill. Yet at least 130,000 Floridians remain on unemployment.
Businesses have shuttered not because they lack clientele, but because they can’t stay staffed. Others have seen their rebound hampered because the lack of consistent employees makes it impossible to grow and plan for the future. In Florida and elsewhere in the country, it seems like no one wants to work.
It’s because many Floridians have realized they can make more money sitting at home— thanks to the UI bonuses and expansion of benefits — than they can by working.
The most insidious benefit boost has been the $300 weekly UI bonus — which stands in stark contrast to the $25 weekly bonus approved during the Great Recession. This $300 per week is on top of regular UI benefits and is completely disregarded from counting towards income eligibility requirements for food stamps. This unnecessary bonus has discouraged work but stimulated massive UI fraud.
It could be argued that some of these increased benefits were merited during the earlier days of the lockdowns, but that time has long since passed, especially now that states are fully reopening, and vaccines are readily available. Now these inflated benefits serve only to drain funds reserved for the truly needy and instead reward those who’ve opted to get paid not to work.
Take, for example, a single father of two named Dave, living in Miami. He was laid off from his low-wage job early in 2021 and has been receiving unemployment benefits along with numerous other benefits. Available monthly cash benefits pay thousands for able-bodied people like Dave to sit at home when there are plenty of jobs available right now.
In fact, Dave could bring in $3,652 per month just in cash or cash equivalent UI, welfare benefits, and tax credits. If he were working full-time, he would have to earn more than $20 per hour just to equal the value of these taxpayer-funded bonuses.
This is 17 percent more than the median salary of a full-time worker in Florida, and 144 percent more than a full-time minimum wage worker in Florida. Dave is a case study in how these benefits are the driving force keeping workers willingly beholden to the government instead of finding a job.
And it’s not just cash aid. When you add non-cash benefits like Medicaid, premium tax credits, and more, Dave’s monthly income for staying at home balloons up to $5,311 —or nearly $64,000 per year.
The jobs are out there. The government has just made dependency look much more enticing.
A deep dive into the implications of these UI bonuses and expanded welfare programs reveals just how harmful they are to the state of Florida. This environment of encouraged government dependency isn’t healthy for the economy or Floridians for a few reasons.
Federal lawmakers have created an environment where not working is incentivized; meanwhile, businesses are forced to limp along.
If lawmakers truly want to see an economic recovery, this is not the way to do it. The way to experience a dramatic upturn in economic growth followed by a decrease in unemployment rates is to make work more attractive than staying at home: allow the enhanced COVID-19 benefits to expire on time.
These and other expanded benefits are only acting as a dead weight, pressing heavily upon Florida businesses and the economy as a whole.
For the good of all Floridians — and all Americans — policymakers can and should make the decision to encourage and incentivize working.
Hayden Dublois is a Senior Research Analyst at the Foundation for Government Accountability. He lives in Marco Island, Florida.