The drive to eliminate the pandemic-related enhanced unemployment benefits is gaining steam. On Monday, Governor Burgum announced ND would stop participating in the federal benefit starting June 19th citing workforce shortages. Shortly after that announcement, Sen. Kevin Cramer co-sponsored legislation to stop the enhanced benefits over time. Intended as a tool to push potential employees back to work, it isn’t the silver bullet to end the workforce shortage in the state. Though it may chip away at unemployment, leaders need to discuss other factors preventing people from entering the workforce.
Burgum’s decision is steering us in the right direction. As vaccinations rise, it is time to draw some of the pandemic-necessary benefits down. The decision was unsurprisingly met with applause from business lobbyists including Arik Spencer, the President and CEO of the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce. He joined me on KFGO to discuss.
However, the approach toward full employment can’t just be narrowly focused on a temporary benefit created out of necessity. According to releases from Burgum’s office, North Dakota had more than 16,000 online job openings in April. There are likely far more employment opportunities that aren’t posted online or Job Service. About 8,300 people are currently claiming benefits under the programs Burgum is looking to curtail. Even if every single person claiming enhanced unemployment benefits became employed there would be a lot of job vacancies.
As of March 2021, ND’s unemployment rate was 4.8%. More needs to be considered to fill these jobs.
One of the largest employment suppressants is the lack of access to affordable child care in ND. The Republican-led Legislature has constantly refused to make meaningful investments in this area. Those same lawmakers also refused to even study paid family leave as an option so a parent can comfortably take time with those children or elderly in need of care and maintain their employment status.
Too often, the sticker shock of child care leads to a difficult choice for parents. Can both afford to work and pay the child care bill, or is it more economical for one to stay home – out of the workforce – and raise the child? Progress from both the state and business sector needs to be made so families aren’t routinely faced with this decision.
How do the pre and post-pandemic wages and benefits compare with jobs lost and now jobs available? How many North Dakotans lost a job because of the pandemic only to be offered something not meeting what they previously relied on in wages and benefits? Are these current openings and job offerings what potential employees need to support their families? Just a few things to consider as people are quick to rush and call others “lazy.”
People should be encouraged to get to work. It is important to understand being “pro-business” doesn’t simply entail focusing on infrastructure and taxes. It also includes making sure a happy, healthy, and well-educated workforce is available to help build out not only that business but our economy. We can do more to ensure that in the state.