Missouri set to squeeze workers by cutting unemployment benefits

On June 12, Missouri will end the enhanced benefits provided as supplements to unemployment benefits that are part of the latest COVID-19 relief bill. It is one of 21 other states that have announced plans to eliminate the $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits.

Governor Mike Parsons made the announcement on May 11 stating, “Despite our economy’s strong comeback many business owners and employers across the state are still struggling, not because of COVID-19, but because they can’t find people to fill the jobs to help address this labor shortage.”

However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of Missouri’s working-age population is nearly identical to its pre-COVID levels. 

Many of the jobs that Parsons referred to are part-time, offer no benefits, or have irregular schedules that make getting a second job difficult. Additionally, many of these jobs are in the service industry which has seen some of the highest COVID-related deaths, leaving many workers forced to choose between the health of themselves and their loved ones or being able to pay for rent, food and utilities.

Parents of school-age children are in an especially tough position. Many of the schools and daycares have yet to reopen, leaving parents forced to stay home to provide care for their children. No discussion of supplemental benefits to offset this were part of Parson’s plan.

Simultaneously, the Missouri legislature voted to increase the gas tax on May 11, the same day Parson declared the upcoming end to supplemental unemployment benefits. This tax will hit rural Missouri especially hard as public transportation is non-existent in much of the state.

Prior to the pandemic, Missouri had a 12.9% poverty rate with 17% of Missouri children living in poverty. Sixteen Missouri counties had poverty rates above 20% and 16 counties have childhood poverty rates over 30%, including Pemiscot county with a 40.7% childhood poverty rate per the USDA. While updated numbers are not yet available, the economic crisis created by the U.S. response to COVID-19 suggests that these numbers have only gone up.

Missouri’s $10.30/hour minimum wage is not going to provide enough income for many Missourians to get by, even those who are able to find full-time work. It is glaringly clear that the political leadership in Missouri cares more about upholding the rights of the owners and employers than that of the everyday people that are already struggling to get by.

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