The return of work requirements: The GOP gets its Herbert Hoover on

May 14, 2021 12:20 am

Two lines of cars wait for food assistance at the All People’s Fresh Market in Columbus. Officials say covid-related food insecurity is growing in Ohio. Photo by Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal.

Having tired of the culture wars, state and national Republicans have returned to the familiar and comforting battlefield of the class wars, using last week’s disappointing jobs numbers as an excuse to call for the end of extended unemployment benefits, based on the slender and debunked premise that it has discouraged people from seeking work.

Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the jobs report “begins to confirm that this is a barrier — not the only barrier, but a barrier to filling open positions in the recovery,” the New York Times reported. He added that, “we absolutely have to begin to make the preparation to turn the supplement off. The sooner we do that, the sooner it’s going to become clear how this has been holding us back.”

House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, piled on, declaring that the White House’s strategies, which generally have improved the economy, was “sabotaging our jobs recovery with promises of higher taxes and regulation on local businesses that discourage hiring and drive jobs overseas,” the Times reported, citing a statement released by Brady’s office.

On Tuesday, the White House stiffened its line, saying people who turned down employment risked losing their benefits. President Joe Biden has continued to defend the more generous benefits, however.

Meanwhile, red state governors are parroting the national line, and have announced that they’ll turn down hundreds of millions of dollars in federal assistance to force their residents to return to poorly paying service-sector jobs with horrible benefits and potentially unsafe working conditions exacerbated by mask- and vaccine-denying patrons.

That’s also happening in Pennsylvania, where the Republican-controlled House Labor & Industry Committee has advanced a job search requirement, the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported. And the rhetoric from its sponsor, committee Chairman Jim Cox, R-Berks, has a hauntingly familiar ring to it.

“I should hope Pennsylvanians aren’t that lazy. I don’t believe they are,” Cox said. “But I do believe there is an incentive for them to not look for jobs, and that’s when the government continues to dole out money.”

In a way, it’s kind of refreshing to see Republicans drop the obsession with Dr. Seuss and other shiny-object attractions of the culture war and get back to their fundamental business of defending corporate America.

There is no small irony, of course, that it’s happening even as the GOP continues to try to shed its image as the party of the rich and rebrand itself as the defender of the working class.

(Image via

The rhetorical jiu-jitsu, however, is a gross oversimplification of the tectonic forces that are reshaping the post-pandemic economy, as NBC News and other outlets have detailed.

First up, yes, it’s undeniably true that there are more jobs than there are people applying for open positions. That’s happening, in part, because people who got discouraged during January and February haven’t yet gotten the memo that the tide has turned, NBC News notes.

But it’s also true that the pandemic-driven changes that reshaped the economy to begin with: home-schooling, childcare, and concerns about avoiding infection in the workplace until they’re fully vaccinated, also are causing people to hang back.

“It’s not just labor demand and supply, these are tough working conditions,” Bhushan Sethi, the global people and organization co-leader at PwC Consulting Agency, told NBC News.

“I can’t underscore enough the real concern of individuals,” he continued. “Am I safe? Will I be forced to trade personal safety around the virus and variants for a job?”

Finally, it’s also true that some people are using this time to consider their options and contemplate job changes.

But here’s irony rearing its ugly head again: Republicans in the states and on Capitol Hill are opposing or refusing those things that would actually encourage people to return to work. Namely, a livable wage, paid child care, and incentives in the American Rescue Plan for holdout states to finally expand Medicaid, among other things, as NYMag’s Intelligencer reported.

Image via Flickr Commons

And here’s where the GOP further tips its hand: A lot of what Biden wants to do is paid for by taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations. And while Republicans may want Coca-Cola to keep its trap shut about odious efforts to restrict voting in Georgia, they still know on which side their fundraising bread is buttered.

Which is why you saw Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sprain his tongue last month as he walked back his call for corporations to stay out of politics. Corporate donations, after all, slowed to a trickle after large companies cut off GOP lawmakers who opposed certifying the election results.

And as much as the exiled former Dear Leader held himself out as a champion of the forgotten man, he spent much of his four years disassembling the regulatory state to make the turf friendlier to big business. And let’s not leave out the deficit-exploding tax cuts that benefited the wealthiest Americans to the detriment of working Americans.

So while the GOP’s recent rhetoric about lazy and ambition-free workers (and which workers are they referring to, by the way? Surely not the base?) is disappointing, it’s not particularly surprising.

The grift has been in plain sight the whole time.



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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. He's been covering Pennsylvania politics for more than 20 years and most recently served as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Micek's commentary is syndicated to more than 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. And he's a regular contributor to a host of broadcast outlets in Pennsylvania and abroad.