Joe Biden Urges People Receiving COVID Unemployment to Go Back to Work If They Can

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Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Joe Biden

In a speech on Monday night, President Joe Biden urged out-of-work Americans to accept the jobs they might be offered and warned they would lose unemployment benefits if they don't.

"We're going to make it clear that anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits," Biden said in remarks from the White House.

"There are a few COVID-19-related exceptions, so that people aren't forced to choose between their basic safety and a paycheck," he said. "But, otherwise, that's the law."

As the president noted in his speech, some 22 million people have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden pointed the blame for the economic damage at the Trump administration as well, saying they "bungled [their] response to the crisis."

As president, both Trump and Biden signed a succession of COVID relief bills passed by Congress that included enhanced unemployment benefits and direct payments.

In his Monday speech, Biden called that unemployment money "a lifeline" for those who still haven't found work but said, "No one should be allowed to game the system and we'll insist the law is followed, but let's not take our eye off the ball."

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While unemployment numbers have been rebounding, progress isn't as strong as many economists would like.

The April jobs report, released last week, showed that the U.S. economy added 266,000 jobs last month, below economists' estimates of 1 million jobs.

Critics such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say the $300-per-week federal unemployment bonus is to blame for the weaker-than-expected jobs report amid a number of stories about seeming labor shortages.

That view is shared by an increasing number of Republican leaders, some of whom say they will limit their state's participation in federal jobless benefits.

"The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market ... Based on the Chamber's analysis, the $300 benefit results in approximately one in four recipients taking home more in unemployment than they earned working," the Chamber of Commerce, a traditionally conservative group, said in a statement released Friday.

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In his Monday speech, Biden alluded to criticism that people may be making more with unemployment than if they were working — though the president said his administration has seen little evidence of that.

"I know there's been a lot of discussion since Friday's report that people are being paid to stay home rather than go to work," he said. "Well, we don't see much evidence of that."

"The line has been: Because of the generous unemployment benefits, that it's a major factor in labor shortages," the president continued.

But, he said, "Americans want to work."

"We also need to recognize that people will come back to work if they're paid a decent wage," he said.

According to CNBC, experts say there may be other factors involved, including increased strain on potential employees from their kids needing care while out of school during the pandemic.

Biden used his speech to express confidence in the future job market, saying that as more Americans get vaccinated, workers will be able find more jobs.

"Our economy can't achieve its full potential until we get more people vaccinated. Employers can help that," he said, referencing a new tax credit eligible to employers whose workers are given paid time off to get a shot and recover from the effects of a vaccine.

"My expectation is that as our economy comes back, these companies will provide fair wages and safe work environments," Biden said. "And if they do, they'll find plenty of workers."