116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Targeting the unemployed isn’t going to solve Iowa’s worker shortage. But Gov. Kim Reynolds still is determined to make things harder for Iowa’s jobless.
It was announced this week that Iowa will put new unemployment rules in effect starting Jan. 9. Iowans receiving jobless benefits will be required to double the number of job searches per week while the number of qualifying searches under state rules will be cut by more than half. One positive is Iowa is hiring 18 case managers to work individually with unemployed Iowans.
The tired political argument that these Iowans are lazy mooches doesn’t hold water.
Back in July, Reynolds cut off additional federal unemployment benefits tied to the pandemic, reducing benefits for tens of thousands of Iowans. The Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature considered multiple bills that would curtail benefits. They’re likely to return during the 2022 session.
All of these moves are premised on the notion that Iowans aren’t working because unemployment benefits are too generous. Yank away benefits, they’ll get off their couches go back to work, Republicans argue. As with so many other bright ideas at the Statehouse, Iowa is following the lead of other red states.
It may be good politics, but it’s bad policy.
Consider the fact that in July 1,641,400 Iowans were in the nonfarm labor force, according to Iowa Workforce Development. According to the latest report for October, the labor force stood at 1,660,900. Iowa’s labor force participation rate was 66.9 percent in July and 66.8 percent in October.
So there’s no evidence that cutting benefits boosted the labor force. Piling on new requirements also is unlikely to be effective. But Reynolds is more interested in catering to business interests and GOP voters than actually helping workers.
Republicans have championed legislation that makes it harder for injured workers to collect compensation. The minimum wage in Iowa, which affects other wage levels, hasn’t been raised in 13 years. Lawmakers are uninterested in evidence of wage theft hurting working Iowans. The list goes on and on.
But they did pass legislation providing unemployment benefits to Iowans who lose their job due to their refusal to get vaccinated.
The pandemic jolted the labor market. Iowans have left the workforce for numerous reasons that have nothing to do with unemployment benefits. Many have decided that working low-wage, no-benefit jobs without sick leave and other protections isn’t worth it. Also, job opportunities vary greatly depending on where you live. The tired political argument that these Iowans are lazy mooches doesn’t hold water.
Iowa should, instead, be focusing its energies on real solutions to the workforce shortage. Callously targeting the unemployed will not work.
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