By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Friday was one of those few moments as a reporter where I could see a grassroots crisis unfolding and suddenly meriting national attention.
Unless you live under a rock, you likely have noticed that restaurants and other businesses that rely on low-wage employees are struggling mightily to hire anyone.
The signs are everywhere. Restaurants struggle to maintain normal hours, and Dollar General stores, with aisles jammed up with carts of boxed-up merchandise, can’t find enough workers to stock shelves.
All of this is shocking and hard to fathom, but it came into sharp focus Friday when we learned that Richards Restaurant in Warsaw will close next week because they can’t find enough staff to operate normal hours.
For weeks, I’ve heard a growing chorus of those who contend that the additional $300 in unemployment checks distributed to millions over the past year have become a disincentive to work.
I tend to believe it’s a more complicated issue that intertwines with lingering concerns over the pandemic, the lack of childcare, and remote learning (which is not really a local issue of concern).
But the argument that jobless benefits are preventing people from returning to work seems to be true.
That was the message from Lisa McCoy, the manager at Richards who announced it would close permanently Thursday after decades in the city. They need at least 20 people to operate and only had 13 workers on Friday.
I asked her specifically if she knows people sitting at home collecting a check instead of working and she nodded yes with a sense of honesty, disbelief and embarrassment.
As we talked, she mentioned an effort by another state to cut off the additional benefits and added that she hopes other states would do the same.
And less than two hours later, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the Indiana Department of Workforce Development would once again begin requiring those receiving jobless benefits to look for work, a policy set aside during the pandemic.
That comes after governors in recent days in Arkansas, South Carolina and Montana announced plans to curtail the extra $300 benefits.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called on lawmakers to cancel the program nationally before its planned expiration in early September.
Adding to the concern was a jobs report on Friday that said the nation added only 226,000 new jobs in April, far less than what was expected.
Republicans were quick to pounce on that one.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, of Indiana’s 2nd District, also voiced concern and pointed to a study by the American Action Forum which estimates nearly 40 percent of workers could make more on unemployment at this level than they would earn by returning to work.
“This terrible jobs report is an unmistakable sign the Biden-Pelosi agenda is doing more harm than good. The federal government is paying many jobless workers more than they would earn by returning to work,” Walorski said in a statement released Friday. “It’s no surprise our economic recovery is stumbling. As vaccines get us closer to defeating COVID-19, now is the time to rebuild our economy and reconnect unemployed Americans with jobs.”
Apparently, President Biden is resisting the notion that the payments are a disincentive, which is unfortunate. Something certainly needs to be done or more restaurants will close and Biden could end up being labeled a business killer instead of the economic savior.
It’s disappointing to realize the economic struggles are being exacerbated by a well-intentioned government program that began with bipartisan support during the Trump administration. What does that say about American exceptionalism and the oft-heard line about hardworking Americans?
I don’t know anyone who has chosen to stay home and collect a check. But I do know many, many hardworking folks who would really like to have a job that pays well enough to make ends meet.
My political fantasy right now envisions Biden and all governors immediately seeking to review the circumstances and then removing the added benefits if it is clearly impeding job growth.
And at the same time in my fantasy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell steps forward and admits that the time for a $15 minimum wage has arrived.
It would be a grand compromise that could benefit the neediest workers. And it’s far from reality.
Meanwhile, the future of many restaurants hangs in the balance.
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OVERRIDING CONCERN – State lawmakers will return to Indianapolis Monday to consider overriding Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill that would switch authority on emergency health directives from county health department experts to city councils and county commissioners. It really boils down to who is in the best position to keep our communities safe.
Whether lawmakers will override Holcomb’s veto probably comes down to how many lawmakers actually return Monday for the vote, according to one local Republican familiar with the circumstances.
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VOTE CENTER UPDATE – Kosciusko County will begin in earnest this week to switch to vote centers for the 2022 elections.
The switch would mean fewer polling places but would allow voters to casts ballots at any of the vote centers.
On Tuesday, the county’s vote center committee will have an organizational meeting as they begin to start the process of developing a plan. You can see examples on the Secretary of State’s website. On May 17, the election board will meet to discuss next year’s election board budget.
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Dan Spalding is the editor at InkFreeNews.com.
He covers city government and politics and always welcomes your input.