“if you thought mechanically that when wage growth is high and inflation is high, the only way these things go down is through higher unemployment — well you have to actually acknowledge now that maybe there is a wider set of possibilities.”
“Yeah, the idea that “no ‘help wanted’ sign should ever exist” is not to me a sign of a healthy economy. The story for much of 2021 was like, “Where have all the workers gone?” and the suggestion was that it must be that people don’t want to work. But in actuality, there were some sectors that were really eager to hire — Amazon expanding its warehousing staff probably did put pressure on other industries looking to hire. But competing sectoral demand for labor is just very different from saying people don’t want to work.”
What Lower Labor Force Participation Rates Tell Us about Work Opportunities and Incentives Joint Economic Committee. 2015 7 15. What’s Happening with Today’s Labor Force? California Workforce Development Board. 2022. What’s behind the US labour shortage? | The Bottom Line Al Jazeera
“Hey, remember the pandemic economy? How could you not, right? In early 2020, millions of people lost their jobs in the blink of an eye, through no fault of their own. In the United States, their subsequent attempts to get help from the government overwhelmed unemployment offices across the country, revealing the system to be fundamentally broken. The infrastructure was bad, the benefits insufficient, and the entire scheme next to impossible to navigate.
And then, something remarkable happened: The federal government stepped in to shore things up. It added extra dollars to state unemployment benefits to make sure people could get by and pay their bills. It expanded the pool of people who were eligible for benefits, so workers such as freelancers and contractors could access them, too. While far from perfect, the extra efforts to help the unemployed made a real difference in people’s lives and played a part in the country averting a deeper and longer recession.
It felt, for a while, like maybe there would be momentum to finally address the issues in America’s unemployment system. So many people had experienced first-hand just what a disaster it was on a massive scale, from outdated administrative systems to inadequate benefits. It seemed obvious that this hybrid state-federal program that had left so much discretion up to individual states just didn’t work.
And then … America’s UI setup didn’t really get fixed, because it never does.”
“As workers stare down the barrel of another potential recession — and the layoffs that would accompany it — the problems that dogged unemployment insurance before the pandemic, many of which have persisted for decades, remain. Most of the momentum to repair the system has dissipated.
Congress and the White House allocated $2 billion to the Department of Labor in 2021 to try to help states update their unemployment systems, combat fraud, and promote equitable access to benefits. But that funding and the accompanying efforts can only go so far, and they are aimed at administrative fixes, not policy fixes. The benefit amount a worker is entitled to, how long the benefits last, and the requirements to get them largely depend on which state that worker lives in. Many states are still digging themselves out from under the last crisis. Given the narrative that has taken hold around unemployment during this most recent economic recovery — that UI kept people out of the workforce, that too much government assistance contributed to inflation — it’s not clear what kind of appetite would exist in Congress to help workers if and when another recession hits.”
“The point of unemployment insurance is to replace income for people who have lost their jobs and keep them attached to the labor market. It’s meant to be a support for the broader economy in times of economic downturn, too, and keep consumer spending going. If I lose my job and can’t pay my rent, it is a problem for me and for my landlord and for the sandwich guy I no longer buy from down the street.”
“UI is financed through state and federal payroll taxes that are supposed to cover both administrative systems and the benefits themselves. Many states have kept those taxes quite low, leaving the system chronically underfunded and resulting in luck-of-the-draw situations for workers applying for UI, depending on where they live.
The average weekly benefit paid out in regular unemployment insurance nationwide was about $385 in the 12 months ending in September. But if you look at Mississippi, for example, the average benefit is in the low $200 range, while it’s now above $600 for Washington state.
These benefits do not move with inflation, either.”
“Many UI offices are understaffed, are still dealing with pandemic-era backlogs, and are using outdated technologies to administer benefits. Or, they’ve updated their technologies and they’re intentionally designed to make the whole thing harder for workers to navigate, or the update was just bad.”
“The federal government sent billions in unemployment aid to ineligible beneficiaries and outright fraudsters during the pandemic, according to a new watchdog report. At least $78 billion in jobless benefits, and potentially much more, were misspent during fiscal year 2021, according to a Tuesday report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
“Not only is the system falling short in meeting the needs of workers and the broader economy, but the potential for huge financial losses could undermine public confidence in the stewardship of government funds,” said GAO head Gene Dorado in a press release yesterday, who called the report’s findings “extremely troubling.”
The Congressional watchdog agency has rated the unemployment insurance system as “high risk” for waste, fraud, and abuse and called on lawmakers and the administration to undertake immediate reforms.
The federal government’s unemployment insurance system—jointly administered by the Department of Labor and a patchwork of state agencies—has long struggled with making improper payments. This problem only got worse during the pandemic, when Congress dumped billions more into an expanded number of unemployment assistance programs.
The GAO found that the improper payment rate jumped from 9 percent in the pre-pandemic fiscal year 2020 to 18.9 percent the next year. That means nearly one in five unemployment insurance dollars went to an ineligible or overpaid beneficiary.
There are multiple reasons for this sharp rise in improper payments.
The GAO reports that some states’ legacy 40- and 50-year-old information technology systems used to administer benefits weren’t up to the task of identifying potential fraud or overpayments. These same systems also struggled to handle totally new benefit programs covering self-employed workers like rideshare drivers, who typically aren’t covered by unemployment insurance.
Federal rules on who was eligible to receive benefits were also “untimely and unclear,” according to the GAO report. Some state officials told the agency they’d already set up programs and started sending money out the door by the time Labor Department guidance came down.
The massive increase in available unemployment funds also increased the rate of improper payments. Federal funding for unemployment benefits jumped from $86.9 billion in fiscal year 2020 to $410 billion in fiscal year 2021.
States often struggled to hire enough people to administer these new benefits. The staff they did hire were often undertrained.
The huge increase in unemployment benefits also became a target for fraudsters. The GAO reports that 146 people have pleaded guilty to federal charges of defrauding unemployment systems. In California, for instance, the state paid an estimated $400 million on fraudulent claims made in the name of state prison inmates.”
“State and local governments are struggling to hire and retain workers amid a tight labor market, even as private-sector employment is reaching pre-pandemic levels.
Despite an influx of federal cash they received in response to Covid-19 — much of which remains unspent — and their own booming revenues, governments are having a hard time competing for workers as salaries at private companies rise.
Economists and unions warn that if public-sector employers can’t reverse the trend, it will erode the quality of services like education and slow the overall economic recovery. ”
“Altogether, the public sector has gained back 53 percent of the jobs lost since February 2020, a ZipRecruiter analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data found. The private sector has won back 93 percent.”
“Economists cite a historically tight labor market as one driver of the discrepancy. Employers in every industry are struggling to attract and retain talent, which has put upward pressure on pay and perks such as remote work that governments thus far have been unable to match.
There were a record 11.3 million job openings in January, the most recent month for which data is available — about 5 million more than there are employed workers. At the same time, average hourly earnings have surpassed $31 — a more than 5 percent increase from the previous year.
The year-over-year growth rate for hourly private-sector salaries and wages in each of the past four quarters has exceeded that for state and local governments by the largest margin on record, according to a Pew analysis of Labor Department data.
“Really across the board, many governments are often facing intense competition for workers,” Mike Maciag, who studies the government sector at The Pew Charitable Trusts, said. “Slower [public-sector] wage growth is playing a major role in hindering efforts by a lot of governments to fill openings and retain workers.”
Maciag points to a recent report from Arkansas’ Office of Personnel Management that found competing offers from Walmart, McDonald’s, Amazon and the like were impeding that state’s efforts to fill some positions. All paid significantly more than the state for entry-level jobs — despite the fact that the “complexity and responsibility” of the government roles “far exceeded” that of the private-sector ones, according to the report.”
“The Fed has penciled in three rate hikes this year, and the first could come as soon as March.”
“Adam Ozimek, chief economist at freelancing platform Upwork, said the Fed misjudged how large the inflation spike would be, though he still thinks — as the Fed previously argued — that price increases will eventually start to cool on their own. He said the danger instead is that the Fed will overreact to levels of inflation that ultimately prove temporary, hurting the millions who still haven’t returned to the labor force.
“Inflation is by any measure extremely high, yet labor slack remains significant as well and we are far from full employment,” he said. “The policy challenge is far more complicated than in 2018, when Powell faced uncertainty about labor slack but without the added pressure of high inflation.”
Still, others have praised the Fed’s restraint amid the price spikes, keeping rates low and allowing the job market to heal more quickly. They argue that inflation is significantly being fed by supply chain issues that the central bank isn’t equipped to solve.
Former Fed Chair William McChesney Martin once said the central bank’s job was “to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going.” But Sahm argued that a few rate increases don’t have to ruin anything.
“Things are getting better,” she said. “We need to pour a little less punch in the punch bowl.””
“Data from the Kauffman Foundation indicate that the percent of new entrepreneurs who created a business by choice instead of necessity dropped from 86.86 percent in 2019 to 69.75 percent last year. Many people happy to work for somebody else were pushed into starting a business by pandemic-era chaos.
But a lot of those people seem to have discovered that they actually like working for themselves, and that may be causing a cultural shift. At the end of November, The Wall Street Journal reported that at least part of the “Great Resignation” phenomenon of Americans quitting jobs involved people starting businesses.”