Sometimes the answer to our society’s biggest questions shouldn’t be so complicated. And, as we come together as a nation to rebuild after the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been far too easy to observe instances of what feels like our nation’s leaders overthinking and scheming about the best way forward in forming and creating an economy and job market that works for everybody when the right path of action is staring us in the face: pay workers a living wage.
Which brings us to our dismal current state of affairs. This past April, the Department of Labor released a less than stellar monthly job report, kicking off a slew of regressive rhetoric around what needs to be done to stimulate the economy and overly optimistic views on the progress we’ve made toward rebounding from one of the most devastating crises of our nation’s history. And while May’s job report metrics were slightly more rosy, we still have so much work to do on the road to recovery.
But sadly, we aren’t all on the same page in the push for progress. True to its standard anti-worker playbook, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce responded to underwhelming job reports by making drastic demands on Congress to end the $300 additional unemployment benefit that Americans have been getting as part of COVID-19 relief packages.
In calling for this change, the unabashedly pro-business lobbying organization foolishly argues that because Americans are getting this additional $300, they are choosing to stay at home rather than enter back into the workforce. While most would understand that no one wants to be unemployed; people want to participate in society and earn wages, the Chamber even goes as far as to support its claim by pushing skewed data showing 1 in 4 recipients of the benefits actually take home more money in unemployment than they earned while working based on the minimum wages of their areas. What’s even worse? Some Republican-led states around the country seem to be following the Chamber’s austerity advice as half of them decided to opt out of federal supplemental unemployment programs. Recent reports estimate that this would cut nearly $5 billion in aid that serves as a crucial lifeline for so many Americans in those states.
Certainly, reading the last two employment reports shouldn’t spark a push to cut unemployment benefits, but instead should be the very rallying cry our nation needs to actually increase the benefits of being employed itself (hint: raising wages would be a great start). So while yes, data may show that the $300 in addition to unemployment benefits is more than the minimum wage in a handful of states, forcing people to go back to work poverty wages is not only the illogical solution to the nation’s economic woes, but the immoral one. Nor should we accept the Chamber’s harsh calculus that comparing unemployment benefit totals to minimum wage is a sufficient analysis of the economic status of the American worker, especially since the “minimum wage” itself (and in most states as well) is far from a living wage.
Should workers themselves really be blamed for any semblance of a worker shortage when so many have had to endure the nation’s decent wage shortage?
Absolutely not. What our nation’s workers need now is not bullying. It’s not shaming. Its empowerment. The exact thing the U.S. Chamber has popularly advocated against—such as through its opposition to the PRO Act, which strengthens the ability of workers to join unions, and its consistent stance against the raising of our federal minimum wage. So next time you see corporate PR statements about how much companies care about their workers, don’t forget that so many of these very same companies donate to the anti-worker U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The hypocrisy shouldn’t stand.
This is especially true during an ongoing pandemic in a country that hasn’t seen a substantial minimum wage increase in decades, with employment opportunities littered with poor benefits packages and taxing work conditions, we should only really come to one logical conclusion:
The workers aren’t the problem, it’s the jobs.
Corporate America must rethink its love affair with the Chamber and end its blockade of pro-worker reforms that will ensure we regrow our economy in a sustainable way that doesn’t leave anyone behind.