The Labor Department released its annual jobs report on Friday, and data appears to show a strong labor market in the face of the highest inflation rate in forty years. Numbers on the overall economy are expected later, and may be abysmal as they will include a surge in oil and gas prices since the end of February.
In March, payrolls increased by 431,000, falling short of the 480,000 predicted by Refinitiv economists. However, the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.6 percent, the lowest number since shutdowns began in March 2020.
Industries seeing the greatest increases in payroll employees were in the sectors of leisure and hospitality, retail, and professional and business services.
Seema Shah, the chief economic strategist at Principal Global Investors, saw the jobs report as one more indicator that the pandemic is possibly becoming an endemic: “Although today’s job report was a little softer than expected, it still paints a picture of a steaming labor market. In fact, the final vestiges of COVID-19 are close to being fully eradicated from the economic data.”
The payroll report also offered revisions to jobs numbers from January and February. January’s revision showed 504,000 jobs added to American payrolls (initially reported results totaled 481,000), while February’s updated payroll report shows 750,000 added employees (up from 678,000 initially reported). However, at least 1.6 million Americans still unemployed, when the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent.
Currently, there are 11.3 million open jobs at the end of March.
In the meantime, multiple states are considering taking steps to “dramatically reduce unemployment benefits . . . (hoping) to force people to fill thousands of open jobs.”
Republican states are at the head of the effort to reduce what has been labeled as incentives to stay out of the workforce; companies across the nation are complaining that potential employees are refusing to take traditionally lowering paying jobs. Both cite higher rates of unemployment pay as the cause of many Americans remaining out of the workforce.
In particular, legislators in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Iowa are looking to reduce the number of weeks that individuals are able to remain on unemployment benefits. In these states, the current amount of time one can receive unemployment benefits is twenty-six weeks; these lawmakers are looking to reduce that time to ten weeks.
Most states pay up to twenty-six weeks of unemployment benefits, but Arkansas and Kansas have reduced its length of pay to only sixteen weeks. Florida unemployment benefits span over a three month period, as does North Carolina. Georgia and Alabama offer benefits for a maximum of fourteen weeks.
The Labor Department’s jobs report relates that there are currently a “near-record” number of job openings across the nation. The data shows that there are about 1.8 jobs available for every unemployed individual, or approximately 5 million more open jobs than there are potential workers.
In Iowa, Republican governor Kim Reynolds and Republican lawmakers are in support of the idea that would cut down the amount of time one could draw benefits, but no Democratic legislators in the state support this measure. In Iowa, the weekly benefit is $531 per person provided they have no dependents – nearly double Iowa’s $7.25 current minimum wage rate. There are approximately 86,000 openings in Iowa to date.
In Kentucky, Republican lawmakers overrode a veto by the state’s Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, on a bill that would reduce the twenty-six weeks one could receive benefits down to twelve weeks. Kentucky currently pays a weekly benefit of $552, which, like Iowa’s rate of pay, is about double what an individual would make when earning minimum wage.
West Virginia is also looking to scale back its payment period to twelve weeks. The Senate in West Virginia passed a bill to do so, and the bill also requires that individuals show they are actively looking for a job. The bill’s critics say that the bill is “kicking a man while he’s down,” and the bill has not made progress past the West Virginia senate chamber. Currently, West Virginia’s weekly benefit pays $424 to unemployed individuals while minimum wage in the state typically pays $328.