Job openings won’t be filled until Florida cuts off ‘free’ money

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Gov. Ron DeSantis should be lauded for getting Florida’s business re-opened eight months ago and for helping to reduce COVID-19 related infections and deaths.

All that’s needed now are workers.

Being open at 100% occupancy doesn’t help when the workforce is operating at 50%. That’s why the Governor needs to take the next step by joining the growing list of states that will refuse to accept federal unemployment benefits.

Hundreds of workers, especially in service-related businesses, are needed in Clay County. As long as it’s easier – and more lucrative – to make money living on government handouts, “Help Wanted” signs will continue to clutter storefront windows.

According to Google Trends, people aren’t even trying to find work. Employment searches were down by more than 15% in March. Too many capable workers have become addicted to “free” government money, prompting a lot of businesses to cut services and hours.

A reduction in COVID cases, added with the growing number of residents who’ve received the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, prompted the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention to drop public mandates for face coverings. That means the federal government should stop paying people to sit at home. The standard weekly unemployment benefits in Florida are $275 a week. Workers can get an extra $300 a week from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. The minimum check for not working in Florida now is $575 a week, or $14.37 an hour, which is $5.82 higher than minimum wage. The original intent of the benefits was both worthy and necessary since millions were furloughed or fired by the pandemic. But since most states are open without restrictions, it’s time to punch the time clock again. While benefits are still important for some, especially families with childcare, health and schooling issues, too many use the payments as a paid vacation.

Unless the government decides to keep giving away money beyond the current September cutoff date, many unemployed workers will face economic and reality withdrawals in about four months. Now that it’s safe to work, it’s best to wean them off their dependency on government aid as soon as possible.

Businesses are doing their part by offering sign-on bonuses and significant boosts in entry-level salaries. Some fast-food restaurants in Clay County now are paying more than $10 an hour and reducing their minimum hiring age.

The Orange Park Mall, in conjunction with the Clay County Community Partnership School, recently held a job fair for teen-aged students. Bestbet had a job fair to fill a variety of jobs last week, and Applebee’s Grill + Bar is offering free appetizers to anyone who interviews for one of the franchise’s 10,000 job openings.

Some states are doling out tough love in advance by refusing to accept government benefits ahead of September.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little said it best: “We want people working. My decision is based on a fundamental conservative principle – we do not want people on unemployment. A strong economy cannot exist without workers returning to a job.”

Florida needs to join the list.

President Joe Biden said the biggest reason people don’t want to work is some fear for their safety and others want higher salaries. But he also said, “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. That’s the law.”

What if they don’t apply?

Employers should be highly critical of capable workers who don’t have legitimate challenges who sat out the past few months. A blank employment record in the past few months will be difficult to explain. A job history during the pandemic may become more valuable than experience. According to marketing expert Vince Thompson, the most critical question in future interviews will be what the job seeker accomplished during the pandemic.

“That story you have to tell and sell is going to be the difference-maker in whether you land a new opportunity when we get to the other side of this crisis,” he said. “It’s going to tell a potential employer everything they need to know about an individual. Did you feel sorry for yourself? did you binge-watch TV? Or did you learn a new skill and try to rebrand yourself for what will be a different and challenging job market?”

That’s why Florida needs to stop the federal handouts and get its employees back to work as soon as possible.

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