Now hiring. Help wanted. Jobs available. Workers needed. Apply within.

These words have been popping up on signs in communities large and small. The pleas are yet another indication that Indiana’s economy, after a rough year dealing with COVID-19, is poised to boom back into action, if only employers can find employees.

Business and manufacturing executives are perplexed at their inability to fill open positions, especially with so many people still out of work from the pandemic-induced recession of 2020.

Jump-starting a system as large and complex as the U.S. economy is bound to be fraught with bumps and ruts. But Indiana government leaders seem to be looking for an easy answer to a difficult and evolving problem. Their solution to this temporary shortage of workers is to take a knife to the social safety net and give it a rip, forcing folks, regardless of circumstances, to seek a job or risk losing unemployment benefits, even the extended funds made available until September through the American Rescue Plan.

The Biden administration and Congress passed the massive rescue plan in March. In doing so, they made an aggressive effort to tighten the safety net and stimulate the economy by making $1,400 cash payments to most Americans and boosting unemployment insurance for those not yet able or ready to reenter the workforce. It was a people-focused plan aimed at easing financial stress on individuals and families while keeping money in circulation for businesses trying to resume operations.

The temporary lack of available workers has ignited concerns that the influx of federal money has kept unemployed people from seeking work. There are jobs available, they say, but business owners can’t get people to take them.

Those voices found the ear of Gov. Eric Holcomb, who announced that the state beginning later this month would opt out of the extended $300 weekly federal unemployment payments and resume requiring unemployed folks to show proof they are looking jobs, a stipulation that was suspended during the pandemic.

The dynamics of today’s workplace are far more complicated than the governor’s decision might indicate. There was bound to be an element of dysfunction as the economy began to rebound. Things were never going to quickly return to “normal” as if nothing ever happened. The COVID-19 recession abruptly put millions out of work. It dealt a catastrophic blow to nearly every economic sector. Individuals hardest hit were those on the lower rungs of the income level with fewer resources to absorb the financial hardship.

The pandemic has been tough on everybody. Businesses ready to resume operations are understandably frustrated by the lack of available workers. Perhaps the “incentives” put forth by Indiana Republicans will nudge a few more people back to the workplace. It would be wise, however, not to view this as a quick fix. Even the governor admits as much.

“Eliminating these pandemic programs will not be a silver bullet for employers to find employees,” Holcomb said.

As has been the case with so many pandemic-related debates, this is far more about partisan politics than good public policy. Americans, and Hoosiers in particular, would be better served if policy makers and political leaders acknowledged it and put a stop to it.

Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

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