Roughly 18 months after the COVID-19 pandemic forced many U.S. workers into unemployment, companies across the nation are now struggling to find enough labor to meet demand.
The problem is especially acute in Pennsylvania, where some Republican lawmakers are blaming the labor shortage on the economic policies of President Joe Biden and Gov. Tom Wolf.
“[Biden’s] economic policies and those of top ally Gov. Tom Wolf are creating a “full-blown crisis” in terms of a workforce shortage in Pennsylvania,” Pennsylvania House Republican Spokesman Jason Gottesman said in a press release.
Why is the situation so bad in the Keystone State?
Gottesman cited a recent report from The York Daily Record that said one of the problems, at least in part, is the additional $300 in unemployment benefits that unemployed workers were eligible to receive. “The stay-at-home payments supported by both President Biden and Gov. Wolf [have] subsequently been abandoned by at least half of all states seeking to boost employment,” he said.
The benefits, which had previously been extended through the American Rescue Plan in March, are currently set to end on September 4. The money comes from the federal government through the CARES Act, although states can refuse the funding.
Democrats, on the other hand, point to Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, which is lower than any other surrounding state. “Overall, 29 other states, including every state that borders Pennsylvania, have raised the minimum wage above $7.25 an hour,” Wolf said on July 9. However, the Wolf administration also reports just 1.3 percent of the state’s workers earn minimum wage or less, many working for tips in restaurants and bars.
Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), told Newsweek the problem is “the gap between the compensation employers are offering and what workers are willing to work for.”
Aside from the additional unemployment benefits and wage issues, many mandates that were in place before the pandemic with regard to the unemployment system have been relaxed.
For the first time since April 2020, the state government reintroduced work-search requirements this month for anyone applying to receive unemployment benefits.
“Rules that require residents to forfeit benefits if they turn down a job offer have gone unenforced,” wrote Christen Smith in The Daily Square. Unlike the work search requirement, that rule is still not being imposed.
For some states, getting workers back has simply been an issue of offering more money.
In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont offered $1,000 bonuses for 10,000 workers who were able to find a job, and work for at least eight weeks. Oklahoma created a similar program, offering $1,200 bonuses to 20,000 workers who return to the workforce for at least six weeks. Montana’s program provides $1,200 to those who return for at least four weeks.
Proponents of those programs believe bonuses will both incentivize workers to return while providing assistance for starting a new job.