Jobless Benefits Do Keep Some on Sidelines, Poll Shows

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Hill Street Studios

Corrects description of 13% in first paragraph and chart.

A new poll sheds light on the debate over enhanced unemployment insurance, showing 13% of people on unemployment refused a job offer during the pandemic because their benefits paid them enough money. 

Based on the survey, Morning Consult, a polling company, is estimating that weekly unemployment payments—which have been $300 bigger because of pandemic-triggered federal supplements—kept 1.8 million people out of the labor force. 

But the company also points out that these benefits were not the most common reason people didn’t accept a job offer. Just under a third of unemployment recipients surveyed said they had declined jobs at some point, citing 12 reasons. Childcare obligations were the most common, at 14%, followed by unemployment benefits, the pandemic, and health/medical limitations, all at 13%.

The June poll of 5,000 U.S. adults, 463 of whom were on unemployment, is the latest piece of evidence in the debate over whether enhanced unemployment benefits offered during the pandemic are making it harder for businesses to fill a record number of open positions. Those enhancements, which include the $300 supplement and a program that allows contractors and gig workers, normally ineligible, to claim benefits, are set to expire in September, but most Republican-governed states have cut programs off early in hopes of spurring jobless people to go back to work.

“Sluggish job growth in April and May was not exclusively attributable to the generosity of unemployment benefits,” said John Leer, chief economist of the Morning Consult, in the report on the poll. “Rather, a range of factors, in addition to unemployment benefits, contributed to slower-than-expected job creation earlier this year. As a result, expiring benefits will not address all the barriers to filling open roles.”

Interestingly, the poll showed similar results as a study from June by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco who, using completely different methods, estimated that 14% of jobless workers would reject otherwise acceptable work because of generous unemployment benefits.

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