May 9, 2021

During an interview on this Sunday's State of the Union on CNN, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) was asked about his state's governor's decision to no longer participate in the expanded federal unemployment benefits program. Host Jake Tapper read Gov. Henry McMaster's statement that "What was intended to be a short-term financial assistance during the height of the pandemic turned into a dangerous federal entitlement, incentivizing and paying workers to stay at home rather than encouraging them to return to the workplace," and asked Clyburn "Do you think that for some people those extra funds are possibly providing a disincentive to work?"

Clyburn responded by reminding Tapper that he's been hearing this tired trope about lazy workers who just want to sit at home on the government dole his entire life, and the fact that Republicans don't want to address any of the real issues that are keeping people out of the workforce, like a lack of child care.

CLYBURN: You know, listening to the governor's statement the other day bothered me a little bit. In South Carolina, where we have such a southern -- let's just say female-dominated workforce. And if you look at that jobs report, yes, it was disappointing, but more disappointing among women, because they are basically the caregivers unfortunately. They are populated in the world of work that is slow coming back.

There are teachers, there are child care workers and all of that. We have to be very careful. I was disappointed to hear the governor say that, because I'll tell you, we may be talking about the big lie as it relates to the election, but very close to that is this notion that people don't want to work.

I have not met many people who don't want to work. I have met a lot of people who are staying off of work because they cannot find child care for their children. And you've got the Republican party not wanting to make that a part of infrastructure. That is a critical part of the infrastructure.

So I think that this notion that people are not going to work because they would rather stay at home, they will make more money if they are drawing unemployment, I've been hearing that all of my life. It has never been true. It's not true now, and I don't think that it ever will be true.

The LA Times' Michael Hiltzik took apart McMaster and other Republicans across the country who are pushing this lie as well: Column: Employers, governors push myth that unemployment checks keep lazy workers home:

In a rational world, employers desperate to fill jobs would do everything they could to make their workplaces seem attractive: They’d raise wages, offer bonuses and show themselves to be caring and respectful bosses.

In our world, just the opposite is happening. Wages are stagnant, especially in low-paying sectors, and employers are demonstrating utter contempt for employees they’re trying to lure back to work.

They’re casting blame for their difficulties elsewhere — especially the purportedly lavish unemployment benefits provided by the federal government.


The notion that unemployment benefits are keeping able-bodied workers home has become an article of faith among employers and their lobbyists, despite a lack of any evidence that this phenomenon is endemic.


The question is not whether employers are scratching for staff, but why.

“Employers simply don’t want to raise wages high enough to attract workers,” observes Heidi Shierholz, a former chief economist for the Department of Labor who is now policy director at the labor-affiliated Economic Policy Institute. “I often suggest that whenever anyone says, ‘I can’t find the workers I need,’ she should really add, ‘at the wages I want to pay.’”

And as Hiltzik discussed, here's more on South Carolina:

A few notable statistics: South Carolina’s maximum state unemployment benefit of $326 a week is the seventh-lowest in the country. It has no minimum wage law, so its effective minimum wage is the federal rate, $7.25 an hour, a rate it shares with 19 other states, including most Southern states, as the lowest in the country.

South Carolina’s share of population that has received at least one COVID vaccination, 37%, is tied for 10th worst in the country. Its percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated, 27%, is tied for ninth worst.

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