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DONNIE JOHNSTON: Help wanted for businesses. Will anyone answer the call?
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DONNIE JOHNSTON: Help wanted for businesses. Will anyone answer the call?

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A FRIEND sent me

a notice that a

popular store in his area was closing.

No, it was not for the lack of customers, but for the lack of help. He couldn’t find anyone to work.

If you look around, you’ll see hiring signs everywhere. There seem to be plenty of jobs, but no takers and you can’t operate a business without employees.

What’s the problem? The unemployment rate nationwide is about 6 percent (end of March figures) as compared with 3.7 percent before the COVID-19 pandemic began. That means there should be several million people out there looking for work.

Why then aren’t unemployed people applying for these available jobs?

A big part of the answer is COVID, not the virus itself but the nation’s response to the pandemic. A few months ago I wrote a column about how several people I knew were making more money from unemployment benefits than they were before they lost their jobs.

The last COVID relief package extended federal unemployment payments, so the checks keep rolling in. And neither state nor federal authorities have been too picky about how actively applicants are hunting jobs during the pandemic.

These extended unemployment benefits are now into their second year and some people have been receiving close to $900 a week during that period. That’s more than $46,000 a year.

If you had been making $35,000 at your old job, you’d be a fool to go back to work for $11,000 less. Sit back and let the manna from Washington and Richmond roll in.

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But that’s not the end of the deal. There are the stimulus checks. Last May, a husband and wife with three children received a $3,900 check. In January, the same family would have received another $3,000. Then, earlier this month, this hypothetical couple got a third stimulus check in the amount of $7,000. That’s almost $14,000 in non-taxable income in less than a year.

If each adult member of that household is collecting unemployment, these people could be pulling down about $100,000. Who in their right mind would want to apply for a job when they’re making that kind of money for doing nothing?

As I said in the previous column, while Washington is telling us how bad off we are, houses are selling at a phenomenal rate. A real estate broker told me last week of a house that sold seven minutes after being listed.

It is not just the rich that are buying these houses. People of all incomes are coming up with down payments and getting mortgages. If we are in such bad financial shape, where is the money coming from?

People are getting used to this free money. Like the bear who finds it easier to be fed by tourists at a picnic ground than scratching for grubs in the woods, Americans are finding it easier to stay home and accept government handouts rather than go back to work.

If you think I’m making all this up, just check with employers that are desperately seeking workers to get their businesses up and running to near full speed again and are finding few takers.

Here’s the real kicker. The government is giving businesses stimulus money to help them stay afloat, but businesses can’t find employees because stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits are making it more profitable for workers not to work.

Meanwhile, houses are selling like hotcakes, new cars and trucks line the highways and the stock market is setting new record highs about every other day. In fact, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has climbed about 6,000 points during the second-worst pandemic in United States history, which makes no sense at all.

Now, with stimulus packages raising the national debt to about $30 trillion, President Joe Biden is seeking another $2 trillion package to put people back to work upgrading the nation’s aging infrastructure.

Unfortunately, Mr. President, if you keep giving Americans free money, they won’t go back to work. Someone in Washington needs to figure that out.

So businesses keep looking for American workers who would rather stay on unemployment, while immigrant labor becomes an even more vital part of the U.S. economy. If the government is going to pay Americans to stay home, then maybe we had better tear down the wall instead of adding to it.

To tell you the truth, I’ve gotten use to those stimulus checks and I hope there is another pretty soon. I’d like to take a nice vacation this summer and I don’t want to use my own money.

And I certainly don’t want to take another job. Why work when Washington is sending me free money?

Donnie Johnston:

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