Some have suggested that many people are making too much from unemployment during the pandemic. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., is one of them.
“Mooney said his biggest problem is ... the provision of the bill that would extend the additional $600-a-week unemployment benefits ... ,” read a West Virginia MetroNews article from the spring, when the act was being debated.
“Where folks make more money not working than working ... , I think that would have a devastating impact on the economy,” Mooney said in the piece, taken from a radio interview. “It’s not right to pay people not to work more than they would make if they did work.”
Rep. Mooney thinks, if people have money to pay their bills, it will hurt the economy. Hard to figure that one.
When I finally became eligible for unemployment, months after I lost all my work, the state decided that about $154 a week is what I deserved. That is way less than I usually make. The U.S. government then decided to kick in an extra $600 a week, bringing my total income to $754 a week, or $39,208 a year — a sum Rep. Mooney and others think is too much.
Tom Crouser made some good points in his Gazette-Mail column this week arguing against renewing the $600 per week. His assertion that the CARES Act “encouraged many to stay on unemployment, rather than return to work,” might be true. But his, and Mooney’s, vision of who is getting unemployment is too narrow and their notion that we could all return to work is flawed.
I’m not sitting at home reaping the benefits of joblessness. I’m sitting at home because my job is gone for the foreseeable future. For many of us, there is no work to return to.
Jobs that depend on public gatherings are gone. Wedding photographers, musicians, caterers, entertainers, some construction workers, the folks who sell hotdogs at baseball games, etc. I admit we are not essential workers — well, except for the hotdog guy — but we serve an important function in society.
The extra $600, just to be clear, was a limited-time offer that recently expired, thanks, in part, to Rep. Mooney.
I will not make $39,208 a year in unemployment, but let’s play this out: I live frugally. I budget. I save. But, still in all, I pay almost $12,000 a year in health insurance; $7,200 for my mortgage; $2,400 for a loan to get a new furnace; $2,760 in car payments; about $2,400 for electricity; $600 for water; $440 for the city of South Charleston to pick up my garbage and take care of my sewage; $1,000 in county taxes; $1,500 in car insurance; and $700 home insurance (all figures estimated and rounded, but pretty close). This comes in neatly at $31,000.
So, if I get $39,208 from unemployment and $31,000 goes to ordinary expenses, that leaves me a generous $8,208 a year, or $157 a week, or $22.43 a day, to do things like take my kids to the dentist, buy textbooks, pay state and federal taxes, and, oh yeah, eat.
Maybe you think $22.43 a day in “extra” money is too much for a family of four to get by on, or maybe you think me throwing around $22 a day will wreck the economy, but I beg to differ.
It took more than eight weeks for the state to decide I deserved unemployment and, by then, I had received a PPP loan, for which I am grateful, and was thus no longer eligible for unemployment. I got some back pay, but I never drew the $754 a week.
The people who had gig jobs and are now drawing unemployment aren’t bilking the system. Some are artists, but not con-artists. They aren’t lazy or scammers. They are decent, hardworking people with nontraditional jobs who are struggling and who depended on the extra $600 a week. They are not making more money now than they made working. They are making far less.
I would go back to work tomorrow — all the entertainers I know would go back to work tomorrow — if there were a job to go to.
So, when you sit down to bemoan all the folks cunningly shunning work to amass their fortunes in unemployment, take a minute to consider your favorite actor, your favorite singer, your favorite comedian, musician, personal trainer, buffet owner, hotdog barker, carnival worker, boxer, professional wrestler or other emotionally essential worker you depend on and say a little grace for them. Some think we’re making too much.
We are as eager to get back to work as you are for us to return. But thanks, in part, to my U.S. House Representative, Mr. Mooney, gig workers just lost the extra $600 a week, and there is a good chance they might get evicted, as well. But hey, that’s what “too much” looks like these days.