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Back to Business

Bonuses may be key to enticing people back to the workforce

Marielle Segarra Jun 29, 2021
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A man fills out an application for a hospitality job during a Zislis Group job fair in Torrance, California, on June 23. Employers at the job fair offered hiring incentives, including a $500 signing bonus. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
Back to Business

Bonuses may be key to enticing people back to the workforce

Marielle Segarra Jun 29, 2021
Heard on:
A man fills out an application for a hospitality job during a Zislis Group job fair in Torrance, California, on June 23. Employers at the job fair offered hiring incentives, including a $500 signing bonus. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently surveyed unemployed Americans who are not actively seeking work, asking them what would “increase [their] urgency to return to full-time employment.”

Thirty-nine percent said a hiring bonus of $1,000. Only 24% of respondents said they’d go back for a 5% raise.

As it happens, at least 10 states — including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Virginia — have started offering return-to-work bonuses, as have many employers.

In Oklahoma, if you received unemployment during the first half of May, start working at least 32 hours a week and stay at it for six weeks, you can claim a $1,200 bonus from the state. It’s called the back-to-work program.

“We launched it 30-some hours ago, and so far we’ve had about 6,700 people apply,” said Shelley Zumwalt, executive director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

About 4,000 of them were not eligible, but there is a lot of interest. The program, by the way, is capped at 20,000 people.

This tracks with what the job search website Indeed.com is seeing.

“Job seekers on Indeed are searching more for hiring incentives, such as signing bonuses, retention bonuses, cash incentives,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed.

What about the fact that far more people in the Chamber of Commerce survey were interested in a one-time bonus than a modest wage increase? Konkel said that is probably about uncertainty. If you’re a low-wage worker, a 5% increase is going to take a while to add up to $1,000.

‘You don’t know what’s going to happen over the next year, you know, not even year, six months, and there are still so many questions with COVID,” she said. “Probably also in your mind is the question of ‘Am I going to get laid off?'”

A bonus can also help cover some of the upfront costs of returning to work, “whether that’s commuting expenses, or child care costs, you know, even wardrobe,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber also found that workers between the ages of 25 and 34 were especially interested in one-time bonuses.   

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