In a recent survey, prominent economists across the ideological spectrum were nearly unanimous in saying a lack of jobs, not a lack of willingness to work, is holding back the economy right now. Not a single economist in the survey argued for cutting off extra benefits entirely right now.
The most prominent voices calling to cut off benefits are conservative economists who have advised President Trump, including Arthur B. Laffer, Stephen Moore and the University of Chicago economist Casey B. Mulligan, a former top economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
“These benefits are not a ‘life preserver,’ but a job killer,” Mr. Moore wrote in an email newsletter on Thursday. “Our studies find that these high benefits will mean 10 million fewer workers on the job by the end of the year, thus killing any chance of a ‘V-shaped recovery.’”
What is the right level of benefits? Economists disagree.
Conservatives argue that as the economy improves, the current high levels of benefits will become more damaging for both the economy and for individual workers. They argue that the program should be redesigned immediately to prevent anyone from earning more while unemployed, and should be reduced further as unemployment falls.
“Especially with unemployment as high as it’s likely to be this fall, you want to bring it down as quickly as possible and avoid having the problem of severe long-term unemployment, avoid the problem of economic scarring that occurs when people are unemployed for long periods of time,” said Michael Strain, an economist with the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Progressives argue that there is little evidence that more generous benefits discourage people from looking for work, and that the $600 a week has helped shore up a safety net that is too stingy in normal times. Low-wage workers, who are disproportionately Black and Hispanic, get smaller benefits since payments are based on previous earnings and they also tend to have less savings to fall back on when they lose their jobs. In many states, the minimum benefit amount is less than $100 a week — and benefits tend to be lower in states with larger Black populations.
“The people with the fewest assets going into a downturn often face the longest periods of joblessness, have the lowest levels of savings and then get the lowest levels of unemployment benefits,” said Sharon Parrott, a senior vice president at the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Jim Tankersley reported from Washington, and Ben Casselman from New York.