AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
With thousands of North Dakota workers choosing to stay at home and collect state and federal unemployment benefits, it is no wonder that businesses across the state are struggling to hire employees. Why should they want to go back into the workforce if they can sit at home and get paid around $18 an hour to do so?
Yes, unemployment benefits were necessary for the workers who were laid off from their jobs as a result of COVID-19 that forced many retailers, restaurants and bars to curtail their operations. But as the number of coronavirus cases has fallen dramatically and the state has eliminated all of its pandemic restrictions, North Dakota businesses have tried to get back to their pre-COVID operations. But they can’t expand the number of days or hours that they are open because former employees, as well as other workers are choosing to stay at home and collect state and federal handouts.
Consider if you will that in April, North Dakota had 16,396 online job openings. That is nearly 50 percent higher than the same period in 2020 and represents the state’s largest number of online job openings since July 2015, according to Job Service North Dakota. One has to assume that there are thousands of other job openings that aren’t being posted with the state’s Job Service.
At the same time, more than 8,300 individuals were claiming unemployment benefits under four federal pandemic-related unemployment assistance programs that were implemented in March of 2020 under the CARES Act. To date, those four programs have paid out more than $700 million in unemployment benefits, including 29 percent of federal program claimants who live out of state.
To help address this ongoing workforce shortage, last week North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced that effective June 19, the state would be terminating its participation in those four federal unemployment assistance programs.