The recent closure of Duane’s House of Pizza in Moorhead due to a continued shortage of workers is a symptom of a much larger problem that is harming businesses large and small and hampering the economic recovery.
Enhanced federal unemployment benefits were an appropriate, temporary step to help workers through the depths of the sharp economic downturn caused by the pandemic. The economy was placed in an induced coma to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.
But the well-intentioned policy is no longer needed now that safe and effective vaccines are readily available at no cost to anyone 16 years of age or older.
Thankfully, we’re in a much better situation now than we were even a few short months ago.
So it was entirely appropriate for the state of North Dakota to end the enhanced unemployment benefits, as it will do on June 19. Minnesota should follow North Dakota’s lead and end the program before its scheduled September expiration.
Unfortunately, some recipients are abusing the generous unemployment benefits, which add $300 to $400 per month. Some workers have found that they can draw more in assistance without having to get off the couch than by going to work.
That’s unacceptable. It’s unfair to those who are working — and it’s crippling businesses that are struggling to rebound from the worst economic shock in decades.
Businesses shouldn’t have to compete with government programs for workers. But that’s the situation they’re facing.
As of April, North Dakota employers had online postings for more than 16,000 job openings, almost 50% more than last year and the most since July 2015, during the boom in the Oil Patch, which lifted opportunities throughout the state.
North Dakota has paid more than $700 million since the pandemic erupted in March 2020 in unemployment assistance. The state has taken care of displaced workers.
Life is returning to normal. Fargo-Moorhead high schools are planning in-person graduation ceremonies. Bison football games will return to full seating capacity and tail-gating. Workers can and should return to the job.
Frustrated hiring managers in North Dakota are reporting that some job applicants aren’t bothering to show up for scheduled interviews. They are giving notice that Job Service North Dakota has asked them to report people who schedule job interviews and fail to show up without excuse — a sign of possible unemployment fraud.
Unemployed workers on assistance are supposed to make a good-faith effort to find work, and thousands of open jobs are going unfilled. The work is out there. Anyone who wants a job shouldn’t find it hard to get one. Many employers are even offering sign-on bonuses to try to attract workers.
So the end of the enhanced federal unemployment benefits is entirely appropriate and sorely needed to help get the economy back on a normal footing. At this stage of the pandemic, it’s the right policy.
It’s time to go back to work, North Dakota and Minnesota.