23 States to Unemployed: Time to Look for Work

Young woman job hunting
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Blasius Erlinger/Getty Images

The pandemic may not be over yet, but 23 states have a message to their unemployed residents: It’s time to get back to the job search. 

In South Carolina, for example, people currently on unemployment insurance will have to start looking for work as of April 18, while Florida residents and Idahoans must resume the job hunt on April 25. At least 23 states have either reimposed job search mandates or will do so in the near future, according to data compiled by unemploymentPUA.com, a company that offers services to help unemployed people comply with such requirements. 

Key Takeaways

  • When the pandemic hit, states suspended their requirements that unemployment recipients look for work, but a growing number are bringing back the old rules. 
  • Job-seekers face an employment market that is still 8.4 million jobs short of pre-pandemic levels.
  • Conservatives want to bring back the job search mandate everywhere, but critics of the requirement say there aren’t enough jobs available yet to justify it.

When the pandemic hit and caused widespread job losses, the federal CARES Act relief bill not only created new unemployment programs, but gave states flexibility regarding the traditional rule that those who receive benefits must be “actively seeking work.” As a result, many states waived rules requiring the unemployed to look for new jobs. Now, with the national vaccination campaign gaining momentum and the job market beginning to improve, the old rules are coming back. 

“We believe that restarting the work search requirements is counterproductive at this point and just creates additional hardships for people already struggling during the pandemic,” Noah Bron, an unemploymentPUA.com spokesperson, said in an email. “We've received messages from people who have not been paid some weeks because they were not able to conduct the required amount of work searches. The economy still hasn't fully recovered and there's just not enough jobs out there yet.”

Federal Proposals

Some Republicans in Congress have proposed taking flexibility on the issue away from the states altogether and reinstating the job search requirements for everyone. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and others have written legislation that would make looking for work mandatory for all unemployment recipients. The proposal may be largely symbolic without Democratic support, however. 

Despite recent positive signs, layoffs have been continuing, and job seekers face a market that is nowhere near its pre-pandemic levels. There were still 8.4 million fewer jobs than when the pandemic began, and 9.7 million people are still unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent monthly report, released April 2.

And at least 4.2 million people have been out of work for more than six months, the BLS said, a number stubbornly unchanged from the month before and 3.1 million greater than before the pandemic began. The American Rescue Plan, the latest pandemic relief bill, recently extended federal special unemployment programs to help those who are still affected by the ongoing problems.

Not all the rules surrounding unemployment are reverting back to pre-pandemic norms. In February, the government expanded eligibility for unemployment to those who have left their jobs or turned down employment because they were concerned about coronavirus-related safety issues in the workplace.

Another state that recently decided to bring back work requirements is Nevada, whose Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) is reviving the job search mandate on May 1.

“As Nevadans are vaccinated and COVID cases continue to drop, DETR is focusing on getting Nevadans back to work, whether they return to their pre-pandemic job or get training for a new job. This is the next step in connecting with and helping claimants where we can,” said DETR director Elisa Cafferata in a statement.