Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Monday that Oklahoma will end a $300-per-week federal supplemental unemployment benefit in June as a way to incentivize unemployed people to return to work. The supplement has been part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that sought to extend boosted unemployment benefits through early September.
However, a growing number of states, including Oklahoma, have announced plans to end that supplement early. The business community has complained of worker shortages as the pandemic precautions and restrictions subside and the labor market reopens.
And even though the demand for jobs is rising, businesses are having trouble filling open positions, saying they perceive that many eligible workers are choosing to continue the supplemental benefit instead of finding a job. Business leaders have said they are having trouble competing with the federal government, and they see this supplemental benefit as disincentivizing work.
It’s hard to confirm the suspicions of the business community that the federal government is making it easier for workers to choose to stay on unemployment. While that scenario may be true for many, for others there are additional obstacles to overcome before re-entering the workforce.
Unfortunately, most of those with additional obstacles to overcome are women.
Some jobless workers don’t have the same access to childcare as they did before the pandemic. Many schools continue to be closed, at least periodically, for in-person learning. Child care centers have also closed during the pandemic.
Some industries have not restored their jobs, and some jobless workers may not be able to return to the job they had before. They may need new training to qualify for jobs that are currently available. Or, they may have to take lower paying jobs to return to the workforce.
The governor has created a $1,200 incentive to be paid for the first 20,000 workers to get off unemployment and return to the workforce. That certainly might help get some back to the workforce; however, there are currently 90,000 Oklahomans receiving the supplemental benefit, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
We can be optimistic that the economy will continue to reopen and workers will start filling the jobs. However, we are concerned for those who will be left behind because of the many repercussions of this pandemic.
While financial incentives to return to the workforce are good, we also need childcare centers to be restored and expanded and schools to reopen fully and safely. Those two things would be the most beneficial in getting Oklahomans back to work.