Gov. Burgum made an error when, at the advice of his friends in the Chamber of Commerce, he made the decision that North Dakota would no longer participate in the pandemic-related unemployment benefits, leaving approximately 15,000 North Dakota workers short and over $100 million dollars in federal funds on the table.
We keep hearing that this extra $300 in unemployment is the cause of our workforce shortages in North Dakota, and that unemployed workers are refusing to go back to work because they are making more than what they would at work. That's exactly the reason stated by the Governor.
Let's talk about that claim.
First off, that's not how unemployment works. You can't refuse to go back to work. You have to apply for jobs. You generally can't refuse to take one of those jobs if it's offered to you. Every week. Those are the rules. If you don't follow the rules you don't get unemployment.
Second, North Dakota employers had difficulty finding workers before the pandemic. "Workforce Development" was often stated as the number one issue for business. It was studied and reported on extensively and is not a new problem.
Third, we are in the midst of a huge childcare shortage, where childcare costs are skyrocketing. Who can claim that it makes economic sense to put your kid in childcare so you can work for less than you are paying for that childcare?
Lastly, jumping through the hoops for unemployment isn't fun. It's a lot of work and can be really frustrating. Most people would prefer to be working, but for various reasons, can't. Working people need a safety net so they can take care of their family while they find another job.
Maybe we don't have a shortage of workforce, but a shortage of good jobs. Try higher wages and better benefits and see what happens. I bet we see a decrease in unemployment and more people in the North Dakota workforce. Give it a shot!
Landis Larson, president, North Dakota AFL-CIO