Utah officials are cutting back on jobless benefits, claiming without evidence federal "bonus" payments are keeping thousands of Utahns from returning to work.
Critics of the move announced last week by Gov. Spencer Cox, said an early end to the $300 weekly pandemic stimulus and other related benefits will hurt thousands of recipients by slashing their income before they are ready or able to re-enter the workforce.
Chase Thomas, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Utah, said the move will force many workers to re-enter an economy which has not fully recovered from the COVID-19 crisis.
"With the pandemic, we've learned that there are a lot of deficiencies with our existing economic system," Thomas contended. "Whether it's the low level of unemployment benefits, we're also just going back to a severely deficient minimum wage."
Cox called the move a "natural step" toward returning the state to normal and claimed there are more than 50,000 jobs available in Utah.
But Thomas accused him of simply copying a dozen other red-state governors in ending the payments without proof that there is a labor shortage. Thomas also believes many Utahns are hesitant to return to the job market out of concern the pandemic is not over yet.
"It remains to be seen," Thomas argued. "We know that the pandemic is ongoing and that there are people that are still feeling unsafe going back to work. We also know that there are still industries that haven't fully recovered yet."
George Hammond, director of the Economic and Business Research Center and chief economist in the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, said it is likely the pandemic is causing long-term, permanent changes to the American work force.
"This is an issue that has been building, as we see continued large-scale retirements of older people as they reach that age," Hammond explained. "The Baby Boom Generation that's been retiring in large numbers for years now, and it's going to continue to affect labor supply."
Currently, about 28,000 Utahns are receiving the additional $300-a-week federal benefit. Under Cox's plan, the unemployment stimulus and other federal payments, originally scheduled to end in early September, will now end in late June.