Unemployment claims are reaching record levels as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic with 110,000 claims at last count. Arkansas Department of Commerce Secretary said that he estimates that the state will have received 150,000 total unemployment by the end of the current week.
COVID-19 has forced many businesses, such as in the food, hair styling and retail industries, to close their doors because of the threat of virus transmission. This has resulted in furloughing or terminating employees because businesses could not afford to retain them.
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump, unemployed individuals are eligible for federal supplements of $600 in addition to their regular unemployment benefits. The CARES Act also provides for assistance for independent contractors, self-employed individuals and gig economy workers in a similar fashion.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) previously referred to the new benefits as “unemployment insurance on steroids.”
This federal assistance is creating a safety net for many workers, but it is also creating some concerns – if not resentment – on the part of other workers and businesses. A recent Fox News article examined the impact that the new unemployment policies has had and the divisions that may have been created.
Fox News spoke to Steve Anthony, CEO of Anthony Timberlands, who said these increased unemployment benefits is unbalanced and could cause resentments between “essential” workers who may be making less than individuals who are currently out of work but may be making more money.
“It’s certainly good for some people,” Anthony said in a Fox News interview. “But there are a lot of essential employees out there — employees that we need to have, who might be resentful that they’re putting in 50 hours a week, and the guy sitting at home is making $300 a week more.”
The U.S. Department of Labor announced that 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week alone. In total, approximately 16.8 million workers have filed for unemployment insurance during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Economists and political writers have already begun debating the merits of the unemployment benefits with points on both sides. Mother Jones political blogger Kevin Drum admitted that unemployment benefits can seem unfair at a personal level but that they are designed to support low-income individuals who can then spend it to support themselves and the local economy.
“The best answer I have is that giving in to that sense of resentment turned out to be a terrible idea back when mortgages were at the heart of an economic meltdown,” he wrote. “We should have sucked it up and doled out the cash even though it felt unfair in some cases. It’s now eleven years later, and hopefully we’ve learned our lesson: this time we’ll dole out the cash in the most efficient and targeted way possible even if it feels unfair in some cases.”
The Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal-oriented think tank, has advocated for providing additional compensation for essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis. The think tank explicitly addresses the issue of unbalance by stating that pay should be raised for the essential workers instead of cutting unemployment. This could be accomplished, the organization said, through direct reimbursements to businesses or imposing windfall profit taxes on government-subsidized companies after the pandemic concludes.
“Even if workers are provided with strong safety protections, they are still taking a risk, and these risks should be adequately rewarded,” according to the CAP. “Essential workers should be paid at least the prevailing wage rate that government contractors must pay, or $15 per hour, whichever is higher.”
While the unemployment issue has created difficulties, some workers have recognized that this is a temporary matter.
Fox News also spoke to an Arkansas warehouse worker who had considered quitting to go on unemployment. He said that he ultimately decided against quitting in favor of job security. No, in reality job security is more valuable. I said it more from frustration than seriousness,” the individual told Fox News.
READ MORE: Preston – Unemployment Claims Could Rise to 150,000 by Week’s End