COVID-19

Some unemployed workers must prove they’re looking for jobs to get benefits

Meghan McCarty Carino Jul 22, 2020
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
COVID-19

Some unemployed workers must prove they’re looking for jobs to get benefits

Meghan McCarty Carino Jul 22, 2020
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Millions of Americans on unemployment are staring down the edge of a cliff, with the $600 a week federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance set to wind down at the end of the month in the absence of congressional action. On top of that, some states are now making it harder to qualify for unemployment benefits by reinstituting a requirement that applicants prove they’re looking for other jobs in order to collect.

Garrett Honey was furloughed from his job as a test engineer for a casino software company in Denver when lockdowns started in March. He’d been collecting unemployment and waiting on his company to call him back, when a week ago he got a letter from the Colorado unemployment agency.

“And all it says is, hey, you have to find a new job. You have to start looking for one, otherwise you won’t get unemployment,” he said.

To continue to receive benefits, he’d have to complete five work-search activities each week: applying for jobs, going to interviews and accepting a job if it were offered.

That put him in a tough spot. Job openings in his field are really hard to come by with the pandemic keeping most casinos closed or at low capacity, and he’d hoped to keep his old job.

“That caused a lot of panic last week,” he said.

Work search requirements were suspended by most states during the initial weeks of the crisis, but Colorado, along with Nebraska, Arkansas and Missouri, have reinstated them in recent weeks.

“You don’t want to discourage people from working if jobs are available,” said Angela Rachidi, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. In normal times, she said, work search requirements are intended to motivate unemployed people to rejoin the labor market rather than remain on government assistance.

In the early days of the pandemic, people were supposed to stay home, not be out looking for jobs, so it made sense to do away with the requirement.

“But now we’re in this kind of gray area of recovery,” said Chris O’Leary, senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. While the most stringent lockdowns have eased and some sectors of the economy have reopened, we’re not back to normal, he said.

“It’s kind of on again, off again — yeah, we’re going to have to return to work. Oh, wait a minute — the virus is spreading. Maybe we can’t,” he said.

There’s still enormous uncertainty in many industries, like Garrett Honey’s. And while the states that have reimposed job search requirements are not hot spots right now, the last months have taught us how quickly things can go bad with a virus that is spreading out of control.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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