Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, is ending participation in federal unemployment programs June 27.

William Campbell | Corbis News | Getty Images

Sign of things to come?

For example, South Dakota was the lone state to opt out of Lost Wages Assistance, a $300 weekly supplement to unemployment benefits. The federally funded payment was issued for up to six weeks starting in August.

Idaho and South Dakota also chose not to pay a $100 weekly stipend to some self-employed and gig workers. The payment was part of a $900 billion relief paw passed in December. (Montana is also choosing to end this payment in June.)

Labor shortage

Montana is turning down expanded federal benefits to address a “severe workforce shortage,” Gianforte said.

The state’s labor force is 10,000 workers smaller than before the pandemic and its 3.8% unemployment rate is near pre-Covid lows, he said. (The national rate was 6% in March.)

Weekly job postings are near record highs and the labor shortage is affecting nearly every industry in the state, according to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

It’s not just about people willing to take the job, but also about what’s realistic. Restaurants don’t always want to hire the college professor.

Andrew Stettner

senior fellow at The Century Foundation

Finding a job

Some labor experts disagree with the state’s move. They argue existing policies shouldn’t be removed until there’s a full recovery.

For one, offering a return-to-work bonus doesn’t mean people will be able to find full-time jobs quickly or easily, they said. That dynamic may leave current unemployment recipients without money to pay bills in the interim.

“People won’t magically find a job,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. “They may not get one until deep in the summer.

“It’s not just about people willing to take the job, but also about what’s realistic,” Stettner added. “Restaurants don’t always want to hire the college professor.”

Further, a low unemployment rate masks broader pain in the labor market. It doesn’t capture workers who left the labor force to take care of kids still learning from home, or those hesitant to return to work due to the virus.


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