During the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, the vast majority of states went into an economic lockdown. Hoping to “slow the spread” and thinking that businesses would be unable to cope with recommended health guidelines and regulations, storefronts were largely told to close up shop. Millions of Americans lost their jobs overnight.
In response, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which—among many other welfare provisions—included a $600 weekly bonus for individuals receiving unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. The benefit was temporary, and lawmakers hoped that layoffs would be temporary, as well. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. As states continued to restrict businesses’ ability to operate, countless Americans have remained without work. The restaurant industry, alone, has lost around 100,000 businesses since the lockdowns began, and nearly three million restaurant employees are out of work.
Congress’s unprecedented UI bonus was intended to help individuals by giving them a boost to carry on until work reopened. But research shows the benefit actually held back our economic recovery. More than 75 percent of those enrolled in the program received more in UI benefits than they earned in their former jobs—making it more appealing to stay home even when their jobs were made available to them again. And the resurrection of a bonus at a lower amount would still pay more than work, threatening the economic recovery.