Most Americans support ending enhanced unemployment benefits early, survey says

Unemployment benefits
  • A slim majority of Americans support ending the federal boost to unemployment insurance now, according to a new survey.
  • Eighty percent of Republicans back immediate cancellation, while just 27% of Democrats do.
  • The survey comes as 26 states end the $300-per-week boost before its planned September expiration.
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In the debate over boosted unemployment benefits, Republicans seem to be winning.

The country sits at a crossroads over how to handle the $300-per-week expansion to unemployment insurance that was in the Biden stimulus passed in March. Twenty-six states – all but one led by Republican governors – have decided to end the supplement before its September expiration, arguing the move will push more Americans to rejoin the workforce. Democrats, on the other hand, say the benefit extends crucial support to jobless Americans as the economy remains far from fully recovered.

A slim majority of Americans – 52% – side with the GOP’s argument and believe the boost should end now, according to a June survey of 2,600 adults conducted by The New York Times and Momentive. Just 16% believe the federal benefit should continue indefinitely, and 30% said the support should last until it lapses in September.

Responses were polarized by political leaning. Eight in 10 Republicans said the expansion should end now. That compares to just 27% of Democrats backing an immediate end to the boost. Yet most Democrats still felt the supplement shouldn’t last beyond September.

That sentiment is shared by the White House. President Joe Biden said earlier in June that “it makes sense” for the $300 supplement to end in September. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki added that Republican states “have every right” to end the programs, signaling the administration wouldn’t pursue a legal fight over the early cancellation.

To be sure, officials have pointed to a slew of other factors behind Americans’ slow return to work. Childcare costs and fears of COVID-19 are likely keeping some from rejoining the labor force, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in a Tuesday hearing. Skills mismatches could also present “a bit of a speed limit” to how quickly companies can hire, he told a House subcommittee.

The Momentive survey supports the central banker’s claims. Just over one-fifth of respondents listed “child care and other family responsibilities” as the main factor keeping them from work. Eleven percent of Americans said they don’t feel safe returning to work due to the pandemic. And 33% said they’re looking for jobs but haven’t yet found one that’s worth taking.

Policymakers are optimistic that hiring will pick up as the country reopens further. One can expect “strong job creation” the summer and heading into the fall, Powell said in a June 16 press conference. More Americans will rejoin the workforce as the school year begins, unemployment benefits and vaccination rates climb, he added. Fed officials see the unemployment rate falling to 4.5% from 5.8% through the end of 2021, according to median projections published last week.

Jobless claims data published Thursday signals there’s much progress to be made. Initial filings for unemployment benefits totaled 411,000 last week, down from the previous week’s reading but above the average estimate of 380,000 claims. And 3.4 million Americans continued to receive unemployment benefits as of June 12. That’s the lowest reading since March 2020 but still twice the amount seen before the pandemic.