Real Stories of the COVID-19 Unemployment Debacle: Saloon on Calhoun

Restrictions are finally being lifted in the state of Wisconsin and businesses like Saloon on Calhoun with Bacon are working to get back to normal. With good food and live music, the venue has a lot to offer returning customers, but owners Jennine and Dave Dayler are still struggling. Despite being able to turn out a good crowd, the Daylers can’t find employees to rebuild their business, and the reason why might surprise you.

When Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, they included a provision to temporarily increase unemployment insurance (UI) by $600 a week—the largest bonus in the program’s history. While the bump in benefits was meant to offset the government’s pressure on workers to stay home during the pandemic, the result has largely been a welfare trap that’s keeping people from returning to work. Under the CARES Act, the average UI payout is now the equivalent of a $50,000 a year salary, well above the take-home pay of many of its recipients.

“Everybody has been told to be afraid, and they’re getting bigger checks to stay at home,” Dave Dayler says in a new video released by the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA). “I can’t argue with them […] I can’t say, ‘Hey, cancel your unemployment, come back here, work in a hot kitchen for less money.’ They’d look at me like I was nuts.”

Saloon on Calhoun with Bacon is not the only business facing the challenge of reopening without a full staff. Roughly 65 percent of small businesses report fears that employees will not return to work.  

“We want to provide jobs for them. We are providing jobs for them. They don’t want the jobs,” Jennine Dayler says.

The $600 per week UI bonus is set to expire at the end of July, and for many business owners, this promise is what’s keeping them alive. Already, more than 140,000 small businesses have permanently closed thanks to the economic shutdowns, and policymakers should reject any proposal that would further disincentive work and make it harder for businesses to rebuild.