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Port: Labor shortage deserves something better than shallow, partisan analysis

Expanded unemployment benefits were hardly the only variable between Americans and the impetus to find a job.

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ND Gov. Doug Burgum meets with the Grand Forks Herald editorial board Thursday, May 13, 2021. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

MINOT, N.D. — Earlier this year, in deciding to end participation in a federal program expanding unemployment benefits, many state-level leaders, including Gov. Doug Burgum , argued that it was necessary to get Americans back to work.

The expanded benefits obscured the impetus for out-of-work Americans to get a job. Ending the benefits would end the obfuscation.

It's been a bit less than two months since those benefits ended here in North Dakota, and so far, there's little discernible change in the state's labor market numbers, as reporter Jeremy Turley pointed out recently .

Since political commentary is an often shallow business in which perception matters more than reality, this has prompted some commentators to spike football.

Leaders like Burgum made a mistake, they argue.

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There's a problem with that conclusion.

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It hasn't been that long since the benefits ended. Economic trends can take time to develop. The impact of ending the expanded benefits simply may not be showing up in the data yet.
Or the impact may be obscured by other trends.

It's insipid to carry on as if the unemployment benefits are the only variable in this equation. Certainly, that policy has been singled out by left-of-center activists who want the expanded benefits to continue in their endless quest to inflate the government dole, but there are other factors at play.

Help wanted
Some businesses post potential wages on a marquee to entice people to apply for a job. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Such as the eviction moratorium . Paying the rent is a big motivator for getting a job, and while the state government here did not implement a moratorium (outside of a brief pause in residential eviction proceedings put in place by the state Supreme Court last year), the federal moratorium had a big impact. Per the Associated Press, the number of eviction lawsuits in the courts fell by about 15% . The moratorium, which has been renewed several times since it was first implemented under the Trump administration , was supposed to expire on July 31.

Only, on August 3, the Biden administration issued a new, somewhat narrower moratorium that still applies to roughly 90% of the American population .

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Not only does a moratorium on evictions remove the impetus for some North Dakotans to find work again, in that it removes at least the immediate need to pay rent, but the political wrangling on serial extensions of the moratorium gives many hope that the effective rent holiday may well continue even when nominal expiration dates loom.

Also, while the expanded unemployment benefits may have ended in some states like North Dakota, the federal government is shoveling money at us in other ways. The Biden administration has ordered the IRS to begin issuing advances on the child tax credits millions of Americans claim at the end of every tax year. Depending on a given family's tax situation, this represents potentially hundreds of additional dollars a month, again making it easier to maintain unemployed status.

This is on top of trillions of dollars of direct payments, and relief funds poured onto Americans in the pandemic area.

And it's not unreasonable for North Dakotans who are reluctant to return to work to expect more money from the government in the future.

Democrats, who control both Congress and the White House, are promising trillions in additional funds, much of it in a planned $3.5 trillion "human infrastructure" bill they plan to force through the House and Senate even if no Republicans support it.

People who are already unemployed, and living on the government dole, might see in the progress of this bill, and other initiatives from the in-power Democrats, a reason to keep a job search on hold.

Unmotivated unemployed 5.11.21.jpeg

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Our liberal friends tell us that the actual solution to the labor shortage problem is for employers to boost compensation in terms of pay, schedule flexibility, leave time, and other benefits.

That's happening, but it's also making things more expensive. "Consumer prices rose quickly again in July," the New York Times reports today .

It may be shocking to some ideologically blinkered activists and news media commentators, but businesses don't have a pot of extra money just sitting around to be used on inflated labor costs. The increased costs businesses pay will come out of our pockets.

There are no free lunches.

Ending the expanded unemployment benefits was the right decision, even if the impact of that policy shift isn't yet discernible.

The federal government, which is closing in on a national debt of $30 trillion, must not continue to accumulate debt for future Americans to make it easier for some Americans, today, to remain unemployed.

That's a terrible, myopic, opportunity-destroying policy at a time when we need an approach that promotes more opportunities and less dependence on the government.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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