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Opinion: President Joe Biden's economic stimulus program creates headwinds for Oklahoma businesses
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Opinion: President Joe Biden's economic stimulus program creates headwinds for Oklahoma businesses

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Bob Funk Sr.

Bob Funk Sr.

Thousands of businesses across Oklahoma are coming back from the pandemic of 2020, but it looks like they may be facing an equally formidable foe in 2021: Uncle Sam.

The state’s economy is among the nation’s strongest as it shakes off the doldrums of last year’s nationwide shutdown, but Oklahoma’s resurgence is now feeling headwinds from a reluctant workforce content to stay home.

Express Employment Professionals serves hundreds of clients from 17 offices in eastern Oklahoma, and we are seeing unprecedented volumes of job orders remain open for weeks because of a worker shortage.

Open positions range from lab technicians and human resources professionals to manufacturing assemblers and warehouse workers, so there are jobs available for just about anyone who is willing to work. And forget about minimum wage. These jobs start around $12 per hour and go up from there.

In normal times, jobs like that would be snapped up by an industrious Oklahoma workforce, but these are not normal times. The pandemic has taken its toll on our nation’s will to work.

Businesses large and small were the first to blink when the recession hit. Many wasted little time in cutting their payrolls, leaving thousands of Oklahomans out of work. Meanwhile, schools closed, forcing more people to leave their jobs to care for children studying from home. Next, the federal government stepped in with enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus checks. Congress passed a second relief bill in December and a third one in March, each with stimulus checks and the promise of an additional $300 per week in unemployment support.

Anyone who is looking for a way to throw cold water on a white-hot job market can look no further than Congress, which wrote a book on the subject in December and March. Just when workers began to show interest in coming back this spring, lawmakers wrote their last chapter, extending enhanced benefits into September, then providing $1,400 stimulus checks to nearly every man, woman and children in America.

Some of our clients watched their employees walk off the job almost as soon as President Joe Biden signed the bill on March 11.

We have seen economic recessions come and go through the years. Each time, we urge clients to hold onto their employees because they rarely come back once they are gone.

Sure enough, they are not coming back this time either. Why should they? With the federal government’s $300 unemployment enhancement in addition to a standard benefit averaging $250, unemployed workers are drawing about $550 per week. For an average 35-hour work week, that is nearly $15 per hour.

When the government is paying workers $15 per hour to stay at home, there is little wonder employers struggle to find workers.

COVID-19 proved to be a formidable adversary in 2020, but many businesses may have met their match as Uncle Sam and his “economic stimulus program” continues to hang around in 2021.

Bob Funk Sr. is president, vice chairman and founder of Oklahoma City-based Express Employment Professionals. He also has served many years on the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, including three years as board chairman.

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Bob Funk Sr. is president, vice chairman and founder of Oklahoma City-based Express Employment Professionals. He also has served many years on the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, including three years as board chairman.

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