The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits increased 70,000 last week to the highest level in more than two years. The problem may only get worse – and how the federal government should respond is another issue entirely.
Rachel Greszler is a research fellow in economics, budget, and entitlements for The Heritage Foundation. She suggests the focus for policymakers now needs to be on keeping people employed and maintaining that attachment to the labor force.
"Because prior to this crisis, unemployment was at a record low, the economy was strong, the labor market was strong, [and] there were more jobs out there than there were people looking for work," notes Greszler. "While this crisis is significant and there are major health implications, it doesn't need to be a long-term economic crisis."
If that connection between employees and employers can be maintained, then Greszler says coming out of this crisis is going to look a lot better than if that connection vanishes and people lose their job, draw unemployment, and lose their health care coverage.
"We know that the longer people are out of work, the lower their opportunities are going forward both for the types of jobs that they can get and the amount of income that they can get," Greszler continues. "So, we just really want to keep that connection there – and that might mean … using taxpayer dollars to pay [employees] what would have been their incomes while they're at home, whether it's with children or quarantining or if they just had their hours reduced."
Members of the Trump administration are open to the idea of sending checks of varying amounts to Americans in general as a way of helping them cover their expenses. Greszler admits she's not a fan of that approach.
"Sending blanket checks across-the-board to people doesn't do much to target those [expenses] because you have plenty of people who are still employed – maybe they're working remotely, but they still have income coming in; they might not have children who are home; or they're retirees who are still getting Social Security checks and pensions [and who] don't necessarily need a $1,000 or a $3,000 check," says the researcher.
"On the other hand, you have people who are completely laid off or who have had their hours cut significantly or they've had to stop work entirely because they're watching children and $1,000 is not going to cut it for more than a week or two," Greszler concludes.
"So, we need to better target whatever money it is that we're going to send," Greszler concludes, "and I think the best way to do that is to tie it to what your income was so that you can maintain your level of living that you were previously prior to any disruption that has taken place."
Read Rachel Greszler's recent article:
"Coronavirus increasing unemployment – here's now to help workers and their employers"