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Let’s Get America Back to Work

By Sen. John Thune

May 14, 2021

The April jobs report was less than stellar. Far less, in fact. With the rollout of the vaccine and millions of Americans ready to get back to work, economists predicted the U.S. economy would add around 1 million new jobs. The reality: only a quarter of the predicted new jobs came to fruition. Just 266,000. For employers who are looking to beef-up their staffs ahead of what’s expected to be a busy summer season, it’s quite a disappointment. On top of that, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that there were 8.1 million job openings at the end of March, making the dismal addition of just 266,000 new jobs all the worse.

If there are 8.1 million job openings (open jobs that employers are looking to fill) and only 266,000 jobs that have been filled (workers who’ve been hired), what’s going on? I believe it’s a direct result of Democrats’ completely misguided policies, especially their decision to create a disincentive for unemployed workers to rejoin the workforce.

It is no secret that South Dakota is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Our high quality of life, low cost of living, and strong respect for freedom and personal responsibility is what attracts so many people to our state, and people quickly learn that we understand the value of hard work. 

Before the pandemic, South Dakota had an extremely low unemployment rate of 3.3 percent. And now, nearly a year and a half into the pandemic, it’s even lower: 2.9 percent and falling. To compare, the national unemployment rate is more than twice as high as South Dakota’s at 6.1 percent. A low unemployment rate is good because it means those who want to work are working. On the other hand, though, it can be tricky for employers when there aren’t enough available bodies to fill empty job openings. It’s a challenge that’s facing many businesses in South Dakota. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, millions of Americans, including many in South Dakota, were suddenly out of work. At the time, it was important for the federal government to take action to help ensure that workers who were affected by the pandemic at no fault of their own had the means necessary to pay their bills and put food on the table.

Republicans and Democrats agreed that we needed to temporarily adjust unemployment benefits to meet those needs. However, as more jobs have become available and more Americans have received the vaccine, I believe we need to incentivize individuals to get back to work. The additional $300 per week plus-up to the unemployment benefit is doing just the opposite, though. In some cases, because of the plus-up, some people are actually making more money without a job than if they got their old job back – even if it was available. That is why this week I cosponsored Sen. Roger Marshall’s (R-Kan.) Get Americans Back to Work Act, which would phase out the plus-up by the end of June rather than allowing it to remain in place through the first week of September, which is current law.


As we negotiated different COVID relief bills, I worked hard to ensure that individuals who are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits aren’t unfairly receiving these taxpayer-funded benefits. Specifically, my bill to improve the integrity of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program, which Congress created to temporarily provide unemployment benefits to individuals not traditionally eligible for unemployment compensation (i.e., independent contractors and the self-employed), was included in the COVID relief bill that became law late last year. 


Earlier this year, I introduced the PUA Eligibility Clarification Act, which would incentivize unemployment beneficiaries to return to the workforce by directing the Department of Labor to rescind guidance allowing individuals receiving traditional unemployment benefits to become eligible for PUA if they refuse a suitable offer to return to work and self-certify that the workplace was unsafe due to COVID.  By rescinding this guidance, the bill would ensure that unemployment beneficiaries return to work if they are offered a job, yet allow state workforce agencies to continue to provide PUA compensation to those individuals who truly require the assistance.

I believe most of the folks accepting these unemployment benefits are hardworking people who are eager to find a job and get back to work. However, it is difficult for many people to justify going back to work to make only a little more than what they are currently receiving on unemployment – or, in some cases, less. South Dakota made the right call by ending the Democrats’ boost to unemployment benefits by the end of June. This will greatly help the many businesses in our state that are looking to grow and attract the workers they need to do so.

As we continue to return to normal and hopefully toward the strong pre-pandemic economy, I will continue to fight for the pro-growth Republican policies that helped build it. Doing so will help get our country back on track.