More people work when the feds stop paying them not to work.
Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, November 5, 2021
The October job reports provides the first real snapshot of the labor market after the end of federal enhanced unemployment benefits. And what do you know? Job growth beat expectations for a change.
Private payrolls jumped 604,000 while the unemployment rate fell to 4.6% from 4.8%. Total jobs were revised upward by 235,000 for August and September due in part to recalculation of seasonal factors. Growth was especially strong in leisure and hospitality (164,000), manufacturing (60,000), transportation (54,000), construction (44,000) and healthcare (37,000).
No doubt declining virus cases helped. About 1.3 million individuals last month said they were prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic, down 300,000 from September. But it’s no coincidence that the growth spurt occurred after the Labor Day expiration of the pandemic unemployment programs, including the $300 federal bonus and 79 weeks of eligibility versus 26 weeks normally.
The Labor Department’s September survey occurred a week after the enhanced benefits expired, so it didn’t capture the expiration’s impact on employment. Many people also continued to receive benefits for weeks afterwards due to claims backlogs.
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So it’s notable that job growth picked up in industries in which employers said jobless benefits were making it harder to hire. Nursing homes experienced their first month of job growth (12,000) since January 2020. Another 16,000 jobs were added in home healthcare, the biggest increase since June 2020.
The labor market nonetheless remains very tight. Labor participation has hardly budged since summer 2020 and at 61.6% is still 1.7 percentage-points lower than in February 2020. Payrolls remain 4.2 million below the level of February 2020.
Low pay isn’t the problem, as employers are raising wages to attract workers. Average private hourly earnings are up 4.9% year-over-year, and 12.4% among production-level workers in leisure and hospitality. But many employers still can’t find workers.
Vaccine mandates won’t help. And neither will other government disincentives to work, including the $300 monthly child allowances, sweetened food stamps and ObamaCare subsidies. The latter are especially generous for seniors and may have encouraged more to retire before they qualify for Medicare. The St. Louis Federal Reserve recently estimated that there have been three million “excess” retirements during the pandemic.
Democrats are trying to expand these benefits, which will slow the labor-market recovery and economic growth. President Biden would have a better economy to boast about if his $4 trillion spending bill is defeated.