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Floridians rally in support of unemployment benefits

Demonstrators rally in support of unemployment benefits on July 16, 2020 in Miami Springs, Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle via Getty Images)

Jobs Report Confirms Ending Unemployment Aid for 8 Million People Was a 'Complete Disaster'

The latest federal data, said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, should put "an end to the false myth that unemployment insurance benefits keep people from working."

Kenny Stancil

Republican lawmakers argued, and many of their Democratic counterparts accepted, that slashing federal jobless aid would lead to robust growth in employment. However, data released Friday shows that while eight million people were booted from expanded unemployment insurance programs last month, employers added just 194,000 jobs—the weakest monthly increase this year.

"194,000 jobs is equal to less than 3% of the people who were removed from the UI rolls in September."

"I hope this puts an end to the false myth that UI benefits keep people from working," said Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). "They don't."

"We can't build back better by adopting GOP talking points and putting them into policy," she added. "This was the wrong call a month ago and it's the wrong call today."

According to the right-wing theory, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits introduced in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis were keeping people from taking jobs, so removing a key source of income from millions of people would force them to return to the labor market in droves.

This "starve people back to work" strategy, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called the UI cuts, "did not work to say the least," said policy analyst Matt Bruenig, founder of the People's Policy Project, a left-wing think tank.

The September jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Bruenig noted in a Friday blog post, showed "the worst month of job growth since [Joe] Biden became president and the second-worst since May of last year when the pandemic labor market recovery began."

Number of people who lost pandemic UI benefits compared to job growth in September 2021

Citing the BLS data, Bruenig wrote that "194,000 jobs is equal to less than 3% of the people who were removed from the UI rolls in September. At this rate, it would take 3.5 years for jobs added to equal the number of people who lost their pandemic UI benefits."

"The management of UI in the last six months," he stressed, "has been a complete disaster."

Last month's nationwide assault on unemployed workers was preceded by state-level attacks on jobless benefits. Over the summer, 26 states—all but Louisiana led by Republican governors—prematurely ended federally expanded UI programs in a coercive bid to boost employment.

In a sign of things to come, the right-wing plan failed then as well. August job growth, Bruenig pointed out in an earlier blog post, was more than twice as fast in states that retained unemployment benefits.

Despite mounting evidence against cuts, the Democratic-controlled federal government refused to intervene to preserve pandemic-era UI before it expired on September 6, although Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) recently unveiled a bill to extend the benefits until next February.

Echoing Bruenig and Tlaib, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) on Friday said that "back in June I led my colleagues sounding the alarm on Republican governors terminating unemployment aid early. We feared their cruelty would hurt job growth and sadly our fears were right."

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) on Friday attributed September's weak job growth to the impact of the ultra-contagious Delta variant and encouraged widespread vaccination to support economic recovery amid the ongoing pandemic.

Experts at the progressive think tank also urged policymakers to pursue changes that would permanently increase the bargaining power of workers.

"This is yet another sign that the strong wage growth we have seen in some industries this year is not a permanent shift in worker bargaining power, but a temporary result of the (very) unique circumstances of this recovery," tweeted EPI president Heidi Shierholz. "For sustained strong job growth for working people, we need things like the PRO Act, minimum wage increases, etc."


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