Labor & Business

Boardman: 46,000 Rhode Islanders lost jobless benefits this fall. Hiring didn’t budge

“Data shows the withdrawal of jobless support had no perceptible impact on employment growth in Rhode Island,” writes Andy Boardman, “casting doubt on claims that the benefits were meaningfully holding back the return to work.”
Photo for Boardman: 46,000 Rhode Islanders lost jobless benefits this fall. Hiring didn’t budge

Published on December 3, 2021
By Andy Boardman

At the start of September, tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders were receiving federal unemployment benefits. Then that support evaporated.

As the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the gaping holes in America’s safety net in early 2020, the federal government stepped in to aid jobless workers. A series of new programs were established, extending lifelines to those left out of work by the pandemic. But on September 4 of this year those programs abruptly expired, eliminating support for approximately 46,000 unemployed Rhode Islanders and reducing benefits for another 11,600.

For months leading up to the end of the federal programs, some employers in Rhode Island blamed the benefits for their trouble finding employees — lamenting that “people don’t want to work” because “they get more money not working” and contending that “the main thing” impeding hiring is “it’s hard to compete with unemployment.”

Yet the programs’ expiration brought no surge in job-finding. Data shows the withdrawal of jobless support had no perceptible impact on employment growth in Rhode Island — casting doubt on claims that the benefits were meaningfully holding back the return to work.

Despite the termination of unemployment support for tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders, September’s job growth was no different from previous months’ increases. Employment in the state climbed just 3,000 on a seasonally-adjusted basis, identical to the monthly gain experienced on average over the three months prior to the end of the federal programs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A separate government estimate indicates Rhode Island employers made the same number of hires in the month of September as they did in August.

Nor did the picture improve the following month. In October, employment fell, leaving the state with just 900 new jobs on net since August. The result: More than 50 Rhode Islanders were cut off from unemployment benefits for every one job added in September and October. By all measures, employment in Rhode Island remains far below its pre-pandemic level. At least for now, recent unemployment insurance cuts show little evidence of spurring workforce recovery.

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