The U.S. Department of Labor has released its official April payroll report, and the anemic numbers of jobs added have shocked Wall Street and prompted many states to begin re-examining federal unemployment benefits. According to the department, the economy added about 266,000 new jobs in April, well short of forecasts, and the unemployment rate rose to 6.1%. According to Bloomberg, overall employment remains 8 million short of pre-pandemic levels.
Employment levels had been slowly increasing as businesses began to reopen from the worst months of the pandemic, with 536,000 new jobs added in February and 770,000 added in March. April’s anemic figure came as a surprise to many Wall Street analysts, who predicted that the rate of jobs added would continue to increase.
There seems, however, to be one major roadblock to continued job growth: Companies are reporting that they are simply not able to find anyone to fill certain jobs for a variety of reasons, including the relative attractiveness of expanded federal unemployment benefits, and the inability of some parents to resume full time work because schools in many parts of the country have not fully reopened for full-time in-person learning. Bloomberg reports that the number of available jobs is reaching record levels, in spite of the high unemployment numbers.
This tension is causing some states to react. The Republican governors of South Carolina and Montana announced Thursday that they are ending enhanced federal unemployment benefits for all residents in their states beginning next month, saying that the benefits are unnecessarily discouraging people from returning to work and causing labor shortages in critical industries. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) said, in explaining the move, that “Incentives matter, and the vast expansion of federal unemployment benefits is now doing more harm than good. We need to incentivize Montanans to reenter the workforce.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) also announced on Thursday that Florida residents will be required to show proof that they are looking for work in order to continue to receive unemployment benefits beginning on May 29. Florida’s requirement for weekly “work search” reports had previously been suspended by a DeSantis executive order, but DeSantis indicated that he would not renew the order when it expires later this month.
“We suspended that last year at this time because, quite frankly, there weren’t jobs,” DeSantis said. “I think now we’re in just a different situation, you have a surplus of jobs, particularly in restaurant, lodging, hospitality, that people want to hire. I mean, you see the signs all over the place. Look, that’s a good problem to have. But we also just want to make sure, like, look, if you’re really unemployed, can’t get a job, that’s one thing. But making sure that you’re doing your due diligence to look for work, and making sure those incentives align, better.”