We don’t care for Gov. Kevin Stitt’s decision to turn away enhanced federal funds for unemployed Oklahomans, but are intrigued by his decision to use federal stimulus money to lure Oklahomans back to work.
About 90,000 unemployed Oklahomans receiving $300 a week in federal pandemic aid will no longer have that assistance in six weeks.
That turns away millions in federal funding that would help a lot of people who are in very difficult situations.
Instead of the additional federal aid for the unemployed, the state is offering $1,200 to the first 20,000 jobless people to return to work for six consecutive weeks with the same employer.
It’s an interesting move to incentivize those who may be putting off returning to the workforce for purely financial reasons.
The problem is that money isn’t always the reason people don’t accept jobs.
There are as many reasons for staying out of the workforce as there are people out of the workforce. Some have insurmountable child care needs or transportation problems. Others must care for aging parents or live in areas where good jobs with health benefits aren’t available. Others legitimately continue to fear that working will put them at risk of COVID-19 exposure.
Offering a federally funded incentive to work instead of a federally funded benefit for not working could be effective with those who are making choices strictly according to the dollars and cents.
On paper, Oklahoma’s economy doesn’t need the enhanced benefits or any economic stimulus. The state’s unemployment rate is 4.2%, one of the best in the country. More Oklahomans are working now than since February 2020 and the number is higher than in the years prior to April 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s been widely reported that there are more than 8 million job openings nationally.
Statistics aside, we believe the vast majority of Oklahomans want to work.
The state’s new incentive program will help some Oklahomans, but not all of those who are not yet on the job. At best, 70,000 people would get nothing from the state’s incentive program. They also wouldn’t get federal relief that they qualify for and which the federal government is willing to fund.
The incentive is creative, but if the state wants to get more people into the workforce, it might also want to consider dealing with obstacles to employment beyond the bottom line.