A growing number of states are reviving their work search requirements for anyone collecting unemployment benefits, part of a broader effort nationwide to bring out-of-work Americans back to their jobs.
States lifted the requirement early in the coronavirus pandemic amid an unprecedented shutdown of the nation's economy and an urgent need for people to stay at home. But as COVID-19 caseloads have fallen as more Americans are vaccinated, allowing businesses to reopen and life to slowly move back to some semblance of normal, states are bringing the work search requirement back.
At least 36 states will now require anyone collecting jobless aid to also search for a job and provide evidence that they're doing so – a move that many employers may welcome.
Requirements vary by state, but Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming will all have some type of search obligation.
Many of those states have also announced plans to prematurely cut off the sweetened unemployment aid included in President Biden's coronavirus relief package, which provided an extra $300 a week on top of regular state unemployment benefits. The supplemental benefit is not slated to expire until Sept. 6, 2021.
So far, 21 states – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming – have said they will stop giving unemployed workers an extra $300 in benefits some time over the summer.
The average state unemployment benefit is about $330 per week. With the federal supplement, Americans are receiving about $630 in weekly unemployment benefits. (For comparison's sake, that's about $32,000 annually, or roughly double the nation's minimum wage.)
The Labor Department's April payroll report revealed the economy added just 266,000 jobs last month, sharply missing the 1 million forecast by Refinitiv economists. Businesses, and many GOP lawmakers, have been quick to blame the boosted unemployment aid for the lackluster job growth, although experts have also cited a lack of child care and fears of contracting COVID-19 for the hiring shortage.
There remain about 8.2 million fewer jobs than there were in February 2020, before the pandemic shut down broad swaths of the nation's economy.
President Biden and Democrats have rejected the notion that Americans are choosing to stay home and collect the extra unemployment benefits – part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law passed in March – rather than returning to work.
"We don't see much evidence of that," Biden told reporters during a White House press conference on Monday. "Americans want to work."
But even as he maintained that his administration would not "turn our backs on our fellow Americans," Biden pledged to enforce unemployment insurance laws so that no American can "game the system" to get paid not to work
"We’re going to make it clear to anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job they must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits," Biden said.