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Graham says family members aren't working due to unemployment benefits

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamProgressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC Senate confirms Garland's successor to appeals court Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema MORE (R-S.C.) pressed the acting White House budget chief Tuesday on the impact of expanded unemployment benefits on the labor force, saying he has family members who refuse to work because of them.

Graham during a hearing urged the administration to cancel federal jobless aid set to expire in September, arguing they convince potential workers to stay home as businesses struggle to fill surging job openings.

“There's a lot of jobs out there that are unfilled and will never be filled until you change the benefit structure. Does that logic make sense to you, given where we're at in our economy?” Graham asked Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

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When Young replied, “I understand the logic, but I've also not met Americans who would prefer not to work,” Graham countered that several of his own family members did.

“I got a lot of people in my family that ain’t working because they’re getting — I'll show you some of my family,” Graham chuckled in response.

“Bottom line is I think there are people out there, they're not bad people, but they're not going to work for $15 an hour and make $23 unemployed,” he continued. "That doesn’t make you a bad person. If you're working for $15 an hour, that makes you almost a chump.”

Biden in March extended a $300 weekly boost to unemployment and several programs meant to expand jobless aid through the end of August. Since May, roughly two-dozen Republican governors pulled their states out of the enhanced benefits in a bid to push more workers into jobs.

While economists warn against relying exclusively on anecdotes about the labor market, there is growing evidence of the demand for new hires far outpacing the supply. Job openings reached a record high of 9.3 million as of the final week of April, the Labor Department reported Tuesday, and the Federal Reserve has reported intense competition among businesses to hire workers despite millions of Americans still without jobs.

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Even so, economists say there is not sufficient data to show expanded unemployment benefits as the only or even primary driver of the shortage. Experts also point to lingering health concerns, a lack of child care options and the inability of many people — particularly women — to return to the workforce due to pandemic-related barriers.

The May employment report, which showed a solid but less-than-expected gain of 559,000 jobs, exacerbated fears that the intense demand for scarce workers could trigger rapid inflation and hinder struggling small businesses.

Biden administration and Fed officials say they expect the economy to work out the kinks of reopening soon and have embraced the upward pressure on wages the competition has created. Progressive economists and groups also argue that workers should use this leverage to demand better pay and working conditions and refuse to return on pre-pandemic terms.

Even so, the dynamic is politically challenging given the salience of inflation fears among centrist and right-leaning Americans.