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- Kevin McCarthy wants stricter work requirements on welfare programs to get Americans back to their jobs.
- That would be part of his debt ceiling deal he’s planning to unveil in the coming weeks.
- But data shows Americans have been returning to work during the pandemic.
In exchange for raising the debt ceiling, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy wants to impose even stricter work requirements for Americans to be eligible for social safety benefits like food stamps.
“Right now, there are more job openings than people who are looking for jobs,” McCarthy said in Monday remarks at the New York Stock Exchange. “You know why? It’s in part because the Biden administration weakened work requirements.”
McCarthy added that “incentives matter” and today’s incentives are “out of whack.”
“It’s time to get Americans back to work,” he said. Republicans’ proposal would target able-bodied adults without dependents, McCarthy noted, trying to prod them back into the workforce.
But employment data suggest that, by and large, Americans are back to work. Especially the type of workers that McCarthy and the GOP would like to see. When the pandemic first hit, employment among the prime-working-age population — adults who are ages 25 to 54 — cratered. But come summer 2020, the share of prime-age adults working began to tick up, and now it sits at its highest level since May 2001.
The White House’s Council of Economic Advisers acknowledged in a blog post that, while there were myriad concerns about so-called “missing workers” as businesses struggled to staff up, recent trends show that that’s no longer the case.
“Despite the enormous disruptions of the pandemic, these ‘missing workers’ are now largely back in the labor market,” the CEA writes.
That shift could be part of the labor market’s “new normal,” as the wild fluctuations of the last few years cool into steady job growth, workers still confident in quitting, and a healthy — but not outsized — number of job openings. Daniel Zhao, lead economist at Glassdoor, previously told Insider that “the labor market is very close to being in balance.”
Americans on social benefits are also working in high numbers
It’s not entirely accurate to imply that Americans receiving social benefits are unemployed.
The majority of families who received food stamps in 2021 had at least one person working, and about a third had two people or more working, according to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Just around 21% of families had no one working in the past year. That’s consistent with data from past years.
Still, that’s not swaying Republicans. Along with stricter work requirements on welfare programs, McCarthy reportedly plans to keep federal spending at 2022 levels for the next decade by rescinding unspent pandemic funds, blocking student-loan forgiveness, and ending environmental programs, among other things.
As McCarthy made clear during his Monday remarks, a clean debt ceiling increase — without spending cuts — will not receive Republican support.
“Let me be clear, defaulting on our debt is not an option,” he said. “But neither is a future of higher taxes, higher interest rates, more dependency on China, an economy that doesn’t work for working Americans. Let me be clear. A no-strings attached debt limit increase will not pass.”
Meanwhile, Biden and Democrats lawmakers are sticking to their belief that raising the debt ceiling should be bipartisan and without negotiations, meaning that an end to the stalemate probably isn’t on the horizon anytime soon.
“One thing is clear from this morning’s theater at the New York Stock Exchange: Democrats want to avoid defaulting on our country’s debts,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said during a Monday press conference. “Meanwhile, Speaker McCarthy continues to bumble our country towards a catastrophic default, which would cause the economy to crash, cause monumental job loss, and drastically raise costs for the American people.”