Psaki: People Not Returning to Work Because Wages are Too Low, Not Because Unemployment Benefits Are Too High

Craig Bannister | May 17, 2021 | 10:55am EDT
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WH Press Sec. Jen Psaki

It’s not that federal subsidies to unemployment insurance benefits have made it more attractive for people to stay home than to return to work, it’s that other factors, such as the low pay being offered, are discouraging would-be workers, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says.

At a press conference last Friday, a reporter asked Psaki the following question about governors opting out of the federal subsidies:

“A growing number of Republican governors – I think 16, at this point – have been opting out of the federal subsidies to unemployment insurance. What’s the White House’s position that: discourage more states from doing that?”

While Psaki said governors have the prerogative to reject the subsidies, she repeated the White House’s position that high unemployment insurance checks aren’t discouraging people from looking for work:

“What’s important to remember, and what we’ll remind people of, is that, again, we don’t see this as a major driver in preventing people from seeking employment and seeking work.”

She then blamed COVID, child care, and “the need to be paid a living wage” for people refusing to seek jobs:

“And, actually, what we see in the data, to-date, is that the pandemic, not being vaccinated, that there’s been a massive increase in the last month in the number of people who were vaccinated, in comparison with a month ago when the data was taken, fears of not being safe, sometimes child care – and also the need to be paid a livable wage – are all factors that are contributing.”

Companies should “offer to pay a little bit more” if they want workers to return to the work force, Psaki said:

“What we would also suggest, and I know someone asked this earlier, is that many of these companies, big companies, let me say, who benefitted, many of them made quite a profit during the pandemic, and many of them also received quite a bit of benefits – $1.4 trillion worth – could offer to pay a little bit more and, maybe, that would incentivize more workers to come back into the work force.”

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