President Joe Biden urged Americans to accept “suitable” jobs and return to work, warning that those who don’t will lose unemployment benefits, during prepared remarks on Monday.
The president’s comments come in the aftermath of a disappointing April jobs report from May 7 as the nation continues its recovery from the pandemic.
Although economists were expecting much higher jobs numbers, just 266,000 jobs were added in April, compared against 770,000 in March.
According to a government survey, millions didn’t take on a job over fears of contracting the coronavirus, and women didn’t make any job gains in April, likely due to continued child care disruptions. About 20 million Americans lost their jobs during the pandemic.
But some businesses say $300-a-week federal unemployment benefit, provided in Biden’s $1.9 trillion rescue package is keeping Americans at home and away from pursuing job opportunities.
Biden disputed that idea on Monday.
“I know there’s been a lot of discussion since Friday’s report that people are being paid to stay home rather than go to work. Well we don’t see much evidence of that. … Americans want to work.” Biden added, “a job’s about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity, your place in the community.”
Although Biden expressed confidence in the spirit of American workers, he made it clear that unemployment benefits aren’t intended to replace jobs if they’re available.
“We’re gonna make it clear that anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits.” Biden added that there would be a few specific COVID-related exceptions so people don’t have to put their basic safety at risk. “But otherwise, that’s the law,” Biden said, adding in clear terms, “no one should be allowed to game the system.”
Biden also encouraged employers to boost wages to improve hiring prospects, and to help employees get access to vaccinations in order to get more people back to work safely.
“We also need to recognize that people will come back to work if they’re paid a decent wage,” he said.
“My expectation is that as our economy comes back, these companies will provide fair wages and safe work environments,” Biden said. “And if they do, they’ll find plenty of workers.”
Unemployment benefits have been subjected to harsh criticism by GOP leaders in recent days.
“As Washington pays workers a bonus to stay unemployed, virtually everyone discussed very real concerns about their difficulties in finding workers,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday. “Almost every employer I spoke with specifically mentioned the extra-generous jobless benefits as a key force holding back our recovery.”
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson asserted last week that “The government is paying people more not to work than to work,” asking, “So why would they work?”
The Washington Post noted Monday that Republicans have argued for decades that government assistance leads people who are capable of working to stay home.
In 1987 President Ronald Reagan called the welfare system “a creator and reinforcer of dependency,” a continuation of his rhetoric about the benefits for the poor that he’d been uttering ever since his 1980 presidential campaign.