Getting America back to work after COVID-19 pandemic

Americans need to get back to work. More than just helping kickstart the economy, employment is a key part of happiness. Literally. 

Part of a previous World Happiness Report outlines the negative effects of being unemployed: “The employed evaluate the quality of their lives much more highly on average as compared to the unemployed. Individuals who are unemployed also report around 30 percent more negative emotional experiences in their day-to-day lives.” In other words, being unemployed has a negative impact on your happiness. 

In the Book of Ecclesiastes, wise King Solomon wrote, “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil.” Part of meaning in life comes from finding satisfaction in our work. 

Unfortunately, the government is paying people not to work. The enhanced unemployment benefit allows some people to make more money being unemployed then they would be if they went back to work. It’s like they’re paying people not to be happy.

A number of conservative governors are planning to end supplemental unemployment benefits. In many cases, unemployed people were making more money than they were during their previous employment. 

Numerous employers across the country have mentioned that these benefits are making it very difficult for them to fill open positions. In other words, businesses are hiring, but some people don’t want to give up their inflated benefits. 

Economists predicted that the jobs numbers for last month would surpass 1 million. Instead, the Department of Labor announced that a disappointing 266,000 were created in April. 

Many believe that the enhanced unemployment benefit is keeping people from returning to work. Without the ability to fill current vacancies, employers are reluctant to create new jobs. Experts also cite concerns about child care and COVID-19 as reasons for the lower jobs numbers. 

Each of these problems are connected to the government. First, government officials continue to pay the higher benefits that make it difficult for many to justify going back to work for less money. Second, the majority of government-run schools are still closed and many parents depend on their children being in school to be able to work. Third, people like Joe Biden continue to wear face masks — even though the science shows that vaccinated people are not at serious risk from COVID-19. 

It’s time for our elected officials to help get the government out of the way.

The supplemental benefit expires on Sept. 6, 2021, but several governors are moving to cut it off sooner. Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi and Missouri are putting people back to work on June 12. Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming are on June 19. June 26 is the date for Arkansas, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Utah. Montana is opening up the next day. South Carolina is on June 30. Texas is on July 3 and Arizona is on July 10. 

Gov. Doug Burgum said that North Dakota would withdraw from the federal unemployment benefits program. He noted that the state has the highest number of online job postings since July 2015. For all of the people crying about helping people during a pandemic, the facts show that there are plenty of jobs available all across the country. We just need to stop the government from paying people not to work. 

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said, “People want to work, and work is available. Incentivizing people not to work is just plain un-American.” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said that “This is the natural next step in getting the state and people’s lives back to normal. The market should not be competing with the government for workers.”

Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri said it well in a statement: “While these benefits provided supplementary financial assistance during the height of COVID-19, they were intended to be temporary, and their continuation has instead worsened the workforce issues we are facing. It’s time that we end these programs that have ultimately incentivized people to stay out of the workforce.” 

Until these states and others end the supplemental payments, I encourage states to create programs that recruit retired workers to re-enter the workforce on a limited basis. Recent retirees could be hired to fill open positions at restaurants, hotels, attractions, and other areas of high demand. 

Vaccinations were made available to older populations months ago. People who received the shots should be safe to enter the workplace. What an incredible service to our country it would be to take on a temporary job until other people can return to the workforce.  

A few months would give time for even more states to phase out the supplemental unemployment benefits, ensure that younger workers have access to the vaccine, and ensure that schools are open. In the meantime, retirees could help fill the void in the workforce and keep America moving forward. It’s time to get back to work!

• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him @ScottWalker.

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