Unemployment Protest
Opinion

Dear Centrists: Unemployment Checks in a (Possibly) Waning Pandemic

If you are like the average American, you aren’t a stranger to differing perspectives on hot-button political issues — whether you flash by political commentary as you flip through your TV channels or you take part in a lively family debate during the holidays. However, one topic seems to never be retired from the political discourse: unemployment.  

The recent conversations about unemployment checks have echoed timeless debates about bootstrap-pulling and welfare-living, but they are still unique for their time and worth examining.

The fact is that many people are not currently working because living on unemployment checks is more profitable than minimum-wage employment; people from all sides of the political spectrum recognize this. Consequently, Republican efforts to lower unemployment from the Florida Senate involved lowering unemployment benefits this past summer. 

Florida business groups and Republican representatives alike argue that companies are struggling to find workers because state and federal unemployment checks offer more money each month than actually working. Such arguments are how Gov. Ron DeSantis justified cutting off Floridians’ access to the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program over two months early.

Those who oppose DeSantis’s decision went so far as to sue him on the assertion that he decreased unemployment benefits for purely political and partisan purposes. Rich Templin, the director of politics and public policy in the Florida American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, is one such critic. He asserts that laziness is not keeping Americans out of work but rather poor labor conditions. To Templin, workers are right not to return to low-paying jobs without benefits

Unemployment is ever on the mind of politicians, as usual. The solution is the point of contention. 

A centrist may see this fundamental disagreement on how to fix a problem — low employment in this case — and chalk it up to different but equally valuable beliefs. This is the wisdom for which we praise centrists in America. After all, in such a divisive political landscape, it is grounding to know that some people still regard all opinions as valid and valuable. 

Here’s why you shouldn’t: 

At its core, we are faced with two solutions and two parties on whom to place blame. The right blames unemployment on collective laziness and threatens people back to work by reducing unemployment benefits. The left, on the other firmly clenched hand, blames deteriorating working conditions and wages and proposes that we incentivize work by bettering labor conditions.

The former attitude is focused on disincentivizing unemployment under the threat of poverty, while the latter focuses on incentivizing through improving employment conditions. One is an act of punishment, at best negative reinforcement; the other is an act of reward and positive reinforcement.

This is, of course, all theory. However, even if we assume that both of these systems lead to the same outcome — more people in the workforce — one is simply more humane and serves the best interests of the average American. 

Beyond theory, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Americans would be better off if the government concerted its efforts to regulate labor conditions. Data from the Census Bureau suggests states that ended federal unemployment benefits early did not increase hiring faster than other states. Economists concluded that other factors such as child care and health concerns are more significant in the decision to not return to work. 

Furthermore, an unemployed Floridian who received checks from both the state and federal government for a year would only earn $29,900 in such a manner. The living wage for a single adult without children in Florida is $14.82 an hour, which would amount to $30,825.60 after a year of full-time work.

Life on unemployment with state and federal support is not considered enough for a single adult to live off of, which some consider warranted for a person who does not contribute to the economy via labor. 

However, this begs the question of why those who do work full time supposedly do not contribute enough labor to deserve basic living standards. In Florida, the average salaries of those in health care support, food preparations, food service, building, grounds cleaning, maintenance, personal care, sales, farming, fishing and forestry sectors are less than the living salary and earnings from unemployment.

In a capitalist system, any well-run business is expected to pay its employees a livable wage. At the least, it should afford to pay its base of contributors more than a government can afford to pay those who do not contribute labor, especially when tax rates are some of the lowest in the developed world.

Conservatives deride systems such as unemployment payments as ‘handouts’ to the undeserving, but their solution is in itself a handout to businesses that are considered unworthy by capitalist standards.

The difference lies in what is being ‘handed out.’ The left wants to hand out money, benefits and better labor conditions; the right wants to hand out human bodies for labor. Centrists need to reconsider if the two are truly matched in morality and validity.

Check out other recent articles from Florida Political Review here.

Featured Image: Unemployment protest on March 16, 2020. Unmodified photo by Joe Piette used under a Creative Commons License. (https://bit.ly/3Fto3jR)

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