Returning workers to work

Jul 8, 2021
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Written by Washington Retail
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Washington employers continue to face challenges filling open positions as Washington’s economy transitions to fully reopen this month. As Figure 1 shows, there are still more than 370,000 people collecting unemployment insurance benefits in Washington State – about 150,000 more than pre-pandemic levels. WR believes there are two immediate steps Washington State can take to help move people from unemployment insurance into suitable work. The first is to reinstate job search requirements that were waived during the pandemic. The waiver made sense because businesses were mainly closed or curtailed.

Figure 1 – Unemployment Insurance Claims – as of June 30

On a positive note, the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD) recently announced that job search requirements would be reinstated this month. However, ESD also proposed to ease job search requirements by allowing a simple online job search inquiry or posting of a resume’ in place of actual contact with prospective employers. Washington Retail is urging ESD to recognize online job searches as a tool for connecting job searchers with employers. However, using the online tool should not replace the requirement for actual contact with prospective employers. ESD is currently reviewing comments submitted during June and is expected to submit proposed rule changes this summer.

Secondly, several states have opted to end or modify federal pandemic unemployment assistance programs to encourage workers receiving unemployment insurance to seek work again. The federal programs add up to $300 per week to unemployment insurance benefits and expire in September. Many states have eliminated the additional federal relief programs, reducing the weekly benefit payments to eligible recipients. Reportedly, workers are returning to work more quickly in states that have taken this action. Other states, like Montana, have converted their federal assistance program to an incentive program, offering “bonuses” to workers for accepting new jobs. There is no “one size fits all” solution to the challenge facing employers because many people may not be able to return to work quickly because of childcare needs exacerbated by COVID-19, care for COVID impacted family members, or other reasons. Nonetheless, WR is urging ESD to consider using federal unemployment insurance relief funds to help and encourage unemployed workers to return to work as quickly as possible so that Washington’s employers can return to full operations.