UPDATE - Portman Says Too Many Ohioans Are Not Working Because Of Generous Federal Unemployment Pay

May 12, 2021

Yesterday, in a phone call with reporters, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman suggested Ohio reject the extra $300 a week that is being given to unemployed Ohioans. This is a follow-up question and answer during that call that provides more  insight on his comments . 

Question from Jo Ingles – “I’ve talked to some employees who don’t want to go back to work in the low-wage jobs they were in. They say that $10-15 an hour just wasn’t enough to compensate for the time they spend away from their kids to be on a hamster wheel. They feel like all they do is work and they don’t get ahead, that the salary doesn’t allow them to get ahead. What are you going to do if people have re-evaluated their lives and thought ‘hey we can do more with less and we just really don’t want to be beating our heads against the wall for that pay?’”

Answer from U.S. Sen Rob Portman – “Jo, you’ve asked a very profound question (chuckles here). It’s how our economy works. I mean those individuals need to have funding to support themselves and their families and as long as you know on average in Ohio, they can get $660 in unemployment insurance without a requirement to look for work, there is an incentive to do that among some. I’m not saying it’s among all and people are saying ‘You’re saying people don’t have a work ethic.’ That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that people are using, in their own self-interest, a federal program that is available to them. So I don’t think you will see that hesitancy to go back to work if you don’t have that opportunity for being able to provide for yourself and your family. If it is normal unemployment, which is half of your wages and you have a requirement to work, I think there’s a higher incentive.

Having said that – two things. One, wages are going up. Wages are increasing. And I think that’s a good thing. One of the things about the Biden administration that really concerns me is they seem to want to increase taxes at a time when the tax cuts and tax reform really helped to raise wages before COVID. I mean as you know, in February of last year, we had the 19th straight month of wage increases of 3% or more on an annualized basis. That meant people were getting, you compound that month to month, people were getting nice pay increases and guess what – most of it went to lower and middle-income workers. And that’s good. I want to see wages go up. As you know, I support a minimum wage that is higher than what we have in Ohio and a national one and putting it on an index basis. I’ve supported the $10 minimum wage and the $11 dollar minimum wage proposal out there but you also have an index on inflation rather than having these political fights and allowing there to be a huge step up which hurts small businesses much more. So, I think wages are going up and it’s good for people to get back to work and as you said, get back to their careers. And there is dignity and self-respect that comes from work. And work’s not always fun. But it is the fundamental building block of our economy is that people are working and are productive. And employers are going to have to pay more and employers are going to have to provide people more meaningful work and that’s fine. But we are going to have to get people back to work."