Utah economist says enhanced benefits are just one part of a complex jobs picture

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Posted at 7:18 PM, May 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-10 21:24:28-04

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has made clear he believes the injection of additional federal money into weekly unemployment checks is keeping workers off the job.

"That's what happens when we pay people not to work," he said on CNN's State of the Union Sunday morning.

President Joe Biden pushed back against the argument, which has been made by Republicans in D.C. and statehouses around the country.

"I think the people who claim Americans won't work even if they find a good and fair opportunity underestimate the American people," Biden said.

READ: Cox to meet with Biden on COVID-19 vaccine efforts

Weber State University economist Andrew Keinsley says there may be some truth to the Republican argument, but it is oversimplified.

"I do think there probably are a handful of people who are taking advantage of the system," Keinsley said in an in-depth interview on FOX 13's Live at Noon. "However, when you break down the surveys, primarily what people are saying is they're still worried about safety. They're worried about COVID." reports Utah's average unemployment benefit is $391 per week. The federal $300 enhancement amounts to a full-time income equivalent to $17.28 hourly.

That's almost exactly half what reports as the median income for a Utah household, which is the equivalent of $34.43 hourly.

The incentive to stay home would kick in for those earning well below that state median, at least in a single-earner household.

Keinsley says people who earn the amount equivalent to enhanced unemployment are most commonly in service jobs that require interaction with the public.

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"A lot of people who left the service industry are thinking, 'I want to try something different,'" Keinsley said.

He added that other factors unrelated to enhanced benefits include people choosing to retire and those who have increased caretaking demands in their household, whether with children or with vulnerable or sick adults.