Tens of thousands of Minnesotans are facing great uncertainty as they await federal action on emergency unemployment insurance benefits. Congress has yet to come to agreement on extending the additional $600-a-week emergency benefit that expired at the end of July.
The impact of inaction would be catastrophic for many Minnesotans already struggling due to economic hardship. Congress must act now.
The $600-a-week “top-off” from the federal government has been an essential social safety net. To put it in perspective: The average regular weekly unemployment benefits payment is $381 a week — about half of the average unemployed person’s prior weekly wages. It is very hard to live on $1,524 a month — or less. Many Minnesotans relied on that additional $600 for housing, food, health care and other basic necessities.
We know some Minnesotans have been harder hit than others. Black, Indigenous and people of color have applied for unemployment benefits at a higher rate, based on share of their labor force size in Minnesota. For example, more than half of Black Minnesotans in the labor force have applied for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began. That’s in part because a higher share of Black people in Minnesota work in health care, retail trade, personal services, arts and entertainment, accommodations and food service — the very industries most severely impacted during the pandemic.
Getting unemployed Minnesotans benefits has been our top priority since the crisis began. Minnesota continues to have one of the best-performing unemployment programs in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. We were one of the first states to successfully implement all three CARES Act unemployment programs, including the $600 top-off. If Congress turns it back on, we’d be able to immediately restart the payments.
If it doesn’t, we estimate Minnesotans would lose between $200 million and $300 million a week in payments. That’s an extraordinary economic stimulus that’s just disappeared overnight.
Some have argued that generous unemployment benefits incentivize people not to go back to work. While that may be true in some cases, the overall data doesn’t back it up. A recent national survey shows that 7 in 10 Americans who went back to work in June (before the $600 benefit expired) were making more on unemployment than they did in their new jobs.
Minnesotans would much rather work and contribute to the economy than receive benefits. That’s why the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is focused on helping connect people who need work with the employers who need them.
There are an average of just over 1,300 new jobs posted per day in Minnesota, according to the National Labor Exchange. We’re sharing information about the top 30 most frequently posted jobs on CareerForceMN.com/JobsinDemand. There you can find wage information, short videos about in-demand occupations and links to current Minnesota postings for those jobs, plus contact information for career specialists who can help at no cost.
Getting a job now, and getting on a sustainable career path for the future, may mean changing careers. We’re ready to help people identify skills that can transfer from one career to another. And if Minnesotans laid off during the pandemic need additional help preparing for an in-demand career, they may be eligible for counselor-approved education or training.
But for some — finding a new job will be difficult or impossible in this market. Many Minnesotans currently struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table have never been in this position before. Our state government is working to make emergency help available. We’ve put together a site that outlines assistance with essentials from housing to transportation to health care to food.
The impact of the global pandemic is staggering, and it has affected every community in our state. The $600 top-off unemployment payment was a critical social safety net to help all Americans. Congress must move quickly to restore it, retroactive to its expiration.
But if Washington won’t lead, Minnesota will. At DEED, we stand ready to help all Minnesotans facing economic hardship find a pathway to family-sustaining work.
Steve Grove is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.