Are Americans truly staying at home as a result of increased unemployment benefits? That narrative may be difficult to accept for many people who are eager to return to work.
The White House Gender Policy Council stated in a Mother’s Day briefing, “Far too many mothers have helped shepherd us through the crisis without the critical support they and their families need, such as affordable child care, paid family and medical leave, and flexible and predictable schedules.” Many mothers have taken on full-time jobs as educators and caregivers in the last year.”
“Too many struggled as the economy hit hardest in female-dominated industries, while many other mothers have continued working essential jobs in difficult conditions — on farms and in factories; in grocery stores and restaurants; in laboratories and hospitals; and in so many other places on the front lines,” it added. Some 165,000 women aged 20 and above dropped out of the labor force last month.
The official U.S. unemployment rate rose to 6.1 percent in April, up from 6 percent the previous month, and the country added only 266,000 new jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to Labor Department figures released last week, which economists described as a “huge disappointment.” The report revealed a stark divide among workers, both in terms of their ability to find and keep jobs during the pandemic.
Furthermore, despite the fact that millions of people were laid off last year, many white-collar workers were able to work from home. According to the Labor Department, only 18.3 percent of employed people “teleworked” in April, down from 21 percent the previous month. Despite all of the research on working from home and maintaining a work/life balance, it is an option available to only a small number of employees.
Another sign of a divided America: the black unemployment rate increased slightly to 9.7 percent, compared to 5.3 percent for whites, “making Black workers the only racial and ethnic group (as a whole) to experience worsening metrics,” according to Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank. “These two groups are clearly experiencing very different labor markets.”
Temporary workers are among those who have been excluded from the job group. “As shops and restaurants reopened, it appears that many delivery and temporary help services jobs have vanished,” said Brian Coulton, chief economist at Fitch Ratings. “The small increase in the unemployment rate, combined with downward revisions to March job gains, highlight just how far we are from regaining full employment.”
According to observers, the latest figures indicate that President Biden’s aggressive $1.9-trillion American Rescue Package, which provided $1,400 stimulus checks to millions of households, among many other measures to assist consumers and businesses, was desperately needed to keep economic growth on track after unemployment peaked at 14.8% on a seasonally adjusted basis in April 2020.
According to Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer of the United States Chamber of Commerce, generous unemployment benefits may also be delaying people’s return to work. “We require a comprehensive approach to addressing our workforce issues and the very real threat that unfilled positions pose to our economic recovery from the pandemic,” he added.
However, this does not provide the entire picture. The April 2021 U-6 unemployment rate, which includes those who have stopped looking for work and/or who are unable to find full-time work, was 10.4 percent, half of what it was this time last year, and still lower than the 17.2 percent peak in U-6 overall unemployment reached in November 2009, in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Other outliers exist, according to Gould. “In addition to the 9.8 million officially unemployed in April 2021, we must include three additional groups of economically disadvantaged workers: those unemployed but misclassified as employed or not in the labor force (3.3 million), those who dropped out of the labor force (4.4 million), and those employed but experiencing a pay and hours cut (4.6 million).”
And, according to her, the pandemic has hampered job creation. “If we consider the likelihood that thousands of jobs would have been added each month over the last year if the pandemic recession had not occurred,” she continues, “the jobs shortfall is more likely to be in the range of 9 million to 11 million.” “Now is not the time to deny workers and their families critical relief, such as expanded unemployment benefits.”