May 11, 2021

I really enjoyed watching John Berman politely box in Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson as to why he's stopping the $300 federal unemployment supplement.

"Explain to me how and why you reached this decision to halt the unemployment benefits," Berman said.

"Well, the extra compensation was very helpful during the dark days of the pandemic when unemployment rates were so high. But now our economy has come back. We have jobs aplenty. We have employers that are begging workers to come to their place of business. And we cannot pay extra compensation for workers to stay home. We need them in the place of employment. and so, that's the simple rationale for it," Hutchinson said.

"If they need assistance and finding a job, we'll provide that to them. If they need child care assistance, we have more than ample resources to assist in that as well. So we want people to work. People of Arkansas want to work. But we found that that enhanced benefit was simply an impediment. We still continue to have the ordinary unemployment benefits, But this is a good step to help people get back to work."

"A couple things. First, let's start with the idea that the benefit works as a disincentive. Janet Yellen and others point out that on the lower wage jobs, there actually hasn't been a decrease in hiring. There's an increase in hiring. The decrease in hiring came in higher wage jobs. You would expect the opposite if the added benefit was serving as a disincentive," Berman said.

"Well, you're looking at service jobs, the hospitality industry. You're looking at labor and manufacturing. These are all jobs that are unfilled. And so we have the skilled workers for those positions. And if they average $15 an hour, then you're getting more than that incentive to stay home. So obviously, obviously, that is a discouragement to do that. Human nature kicks in," he said.

(Well, he's a Republican. He assumes greed as a primary motivator because that's what drives his "human nature".)

"Do I want to get the same amount of money by going to work everyday and working hard? Do I want to get that amount of money by sitting at home? And so we want to avoid that inclination of human nature, incentivize them, work should always reward more than unemployment. That's what we're trying to accomplish."

Berman asked if companies could raise their pay.

"Sure, they can raise their pay and that would raise consumer cost. But we want to make sure -- they have raised their pay. Employers all across our state and the country have consistently been more competitive in their salaries. They've raised it. But still they're competing with free money. They're competing with benefits that they can't provide nor should they have to be able to provide," Hutchinson said.

"As you say, the free money, what you say, it's not like this is happening in a vacuum, though," Berman said.

"This is still happening during a pandemic. So, what do you say to those who may have other reasons than just the amount of pay for not going back to work, as you said, child care is absolutely an issue for people. You know that. Arkansas is in the lower end of the percentage of total population vaccinated. So what about people who are concerned for their safety about going back? There might be people hurt by losing this added benefit. Do you acknowledge that?"

"Well, you get a vaccine. We encourage and doing everything we can."

"What about vaccinated people worried, though, about going back to a workplace full of unvaccinated people?"

"Well, I don't worry about it. I go back to work everyday. And there's not any requirement for people around me to be vaccinated. If you're vaccinated, you have to act like you're vaccinated. And you're protected. So, get a vaccination. Go back to work. It's not that complicated. If you use the reason of child care, we have child care assistance. Let me emphasize how much money we have in child care assistance. We haven't spent the money we got in December and we got a new round of $170 million. That is terrific. But we have that assistance money that's available.

"And so, I can't think of any other reason not to go back to work if you're able bodied, you've got opportunity to be vaccinated, protect yourself. Let's go to work."

All that child care money, and they haven't spent the money they got in December. Hmm. Might that have something to do with the fact that so many day care facilities haven't reopened, or that so many of the grandparents who used to watch the kids lost their lives during the pandemic?

Maybe workers in the state's poultry processing industry are terrified by the memory of how covid burned through their plants?

Could it be that so many people who got covid are still suffering long-term effects so severe, they may eventually end up on disability?

I get the feeling Asa Hutchinson is not all that interested in those possibilities.

By the way, Arkansas now has an $11 an hour minimum wage, thanks to the 2019 ballot initiative that Hutchinson strongly opposed, calling it a "job killer."

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