Nine states will be ending their enhanced unemployment benefits on Saturday, cutting off aid to more than 440,000 out-of-work adults, according to an estimate from the left-leaning Century Foundation. The Republican governors of the states argue that the benefits aren't necessary as the economy recovers, but workers and advocates say the loss of benefits will harm them.
The states that are ending extra jobless benefits on June 19 include Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming. They follow three states that eliminated their enhanced benefits a week earlier: Iowa, Mississippi and Missouri. Over the course of the next month, an additional 14 states will join these others in ending extra jobless benefits early. In total, 26 states will cut off pandemic aid before federal funding expires in September. Just one,is run by a Democratic governor.
The enhanced benefits were initially created in early 2020 in response to the pandemic, which led to economic shutdowns across the nation and threw millions of people out of work. The pandemic aid also included unemployment benefits for gig workers and freelancers, marking the first time these nontraditional workers had been able to qualify for jobless aid.
But as the economy reopens, some employers are complaining they can't find enough workers — prompting some governors to decide that the enhanced jobless aid is to blame.
The truth, experts say, is somewhere in the middle.
"We are still in a public health emergency, and vaccines aren't available to everybody," said Luke Pardue, economist at payroll provider Gusto. But, he added, "Unemployment supplements likely play some role" in keeping some workers on the sidelines.
Child care remains an issue for many families, with some struggling to find affordable care or spaces in child care centers for their kids. Grade-school children are also now out of school for the summer, compounding issues for parents of children older than 5 — issues that may continue to hamper workers until September, when schools resume.
About 14.8 million workers continue to rely on some form of unemployment benefits as their main source of income, according to unemployment expert Andy Stettner at the Century Foundation. Slightly more than 6 million of those workers are on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the program that provides aid to gig workers. That program will be curtailed entirely for workers in eight of the states that will end benefits on Saturday, with only Alaska continuing to provide support for the program.
Tony Ruzicka, 40, an out-of-work tech worker in Omaha, Nebraska, said he'll lose all of his roughly $600 in weekly unemployment aid after the enhanced benefits end this weekend. He typically applies to more than 5 jobs per week, but has been told he's overqualified for restaurant work. He believes tech jobs aren't as plentiful as prior to the pandemic.
"It means homelessness if I can't get a job almost immediately," Ruzicka said. "I just wish that all governors would let things play out the way it's supposed to, so that way we can get things back under control."
He added, "There are people who say it's easier not to work, but that's the exception, not the rule."
"How will I pay my bills"
Workers were given a 30-day grace period between their governors' announcements and the actual end to the enhanced jobless benefits, with the idea that that time would help them find jobs.
But some workers say that's not enough time, especially those who are dealing with health setbacks or other issues that make it difficult to go back to work. One such worker is Jerron Spencer of Logansport, Indiana, who is dealing with ongoing symptoms from COVID-19 after falling ill in December, as well as a disability.
"To this day, I am symptomatic most days, including brain fog, extreme fatigue, and more," Spencer said, noting that he will be cut off from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) unemployment aid on Saturday, which had provided him with about $440 per week.
He added that his employer would like him to return, but he's not healthy enough to go back to work because of his long-haul COVID symptoms. "And without the PUA I am, like so many other Hoosiers, left to wonder how I will pay my bills," Spencer said.
He said he believes the early curtailment of jobless benefits in Indiana and elsewhere may force people "to seek out jobs that are possibly unsafe and pay far less than a living wage." Spencer added, "If the market demands more labor, then the market needs to make the jobs more appealing."
Job search activity
Some employers are boosting wages to lure people back to the workforce. And there's some evidence that workers are going back to work at a faster pace in those states that are ending jobless aid early, according to Goldman Sachs.
"Some early signs — for example, continued claims have recently declined faster in states that are ending benefits early — hint at an accelerated recovery due to benefit expiration," Goldman Sachs analyst Joseph Briggs wrote in a June 11 report.
Job search activity briefly picked up when these states first announced an early end to the benefits, according to data from Indeed.com. However, searches in the states that will cut off aid on June 19 have declined in recent weeks when compared with a baseline for April.
Meanwhile, job searches in states that will cut off the benefits at the end of June and in July are still elevated, suggesting that workers there may be motivated to find jobs before their benefits expire.
Regular continued claims have dropped faster in states that are curtailing benefits early, Goldman's Briggs noted. Overall, that could boost employment by 150,000 workers in July — but, he added, any forecast is highly uncertain because there's never been a similar economic situation to the one the nation finds itself in now.
Workers: Finding a job is not easy
Unemployed workers have told CBS MoneyWatch it's not as easy as their governors suggest. Some workers are struggling with health issues tied to the pandemic, while others have children who are in remote school or are now at home for the summer.
One former hotel manager in New Hampshire said she was making less on unemployment than she did in her prior job, which she lost when the pandemic shut down hotels last year. She alsothat the available jobs in New Hampshire were "all low-paying," such as positions at Walmart or Ace Hardware.
Ruzicka, who started a petition asking Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts to reconsider his early termination of benefits, said he thinks he might need another month or two to find a job — but his bills won't wait.
"Why is my governor trying to say he knows better than Congress?" he said. "This is going to devastate many, many people."