While there’s ample room for the debate about the state of the economy, who deserves credit for the good news, and who deserves blame for the bad news, there are some basic truths that are unavoidable. It’s a fact, for example, that as the economy continues to add jobs at an impressive pace, employers are prepared to do even more hiring — but they’re struggling to fill openings.
Congress’ top Republican apparently has some thoughts about this. USA Today reported this week:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that people will begin to work once they run out of savings. “You’ve got a whole lot of people sitting on the sidelines because, frankly, they’re flush for the moment,” he said at an event in his home state of Kentucky. “What we’ve got to hope is once they run out of money, they’ll start concluding it’s better to work than not to work.”
Just so we’re all clear, the Senate’s top Republican has diagnosed a problem with the job market: As McConnell sees it, too many Americans are sitting on too much money.
The longtime Kentucky lawmaker isn’t talking about millionaires and billionaires, “sitting on the sidelines,” counting the money they held onto thanks to the tax breaks McConnell and his colleagues approved in the recent past. Rather, as far as the Senate minority leader is concerned, it’s working-class Americans who are reluctant to join the workforce because they haven’t yet “run out of money.”
It’s a variation on a message prominent GOP voices have pushed for months. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, for example, complained last fall that Democrats created labor shortages through “Socialist policies that pay people more money to stay home than go to work.” (I don’t know why McCarthy capitalizes “socialist.”)
A month earlier, Republican Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee complained about the number of Americans who voluntarily left their jobs, adding, “We need to quit paying folks not to work.”
All of this appears to be an extension of the same objection: The American Rescue Plan, approved early last year, included a relatively generous extension on unemployment benefits. By many measures, the policy was a success and helped fuel the economic recovery, but for a great many GOP voices, the Democratic package put too much money in Americans’ pockets.
The odd part of the debate, however, is the fact that these benefits expired quite a while ago: The extra jobless benefits ended the first week of September 2021. In some Republican-led states, the enhanced aid ended a full year ago.
To the extent that anyone could even try to make the case that the government was paying people “not to work,” that talking point evaporated months before 2022 even began.