3 in 4 Voters Back Keeping or Expanding Weekly Jobless Benefit

Fed's Powell called again for more fiscal support during first day of semiannual testimony before Congress
Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, left, elbow bumps Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) before a June 9 hearing on COVID-19 and unemployment benefits. With $600 in weekly benefits for Americans who lost their job due to coronavirus set to expire late next month, new polling shows voters overwhelmingly back expanding or keeping the amount of money they can receive. (Caroline Brehman-Pool/Getty Images)
June 17, 2020 at 6:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • 40% of voters said the government should increase the amount of unemployment benefits to workers who have lost their jobs in the coronavirus pandemic.

  • 35% said the benefits should stay the same, while 13% said they should be cut.

As Washington debates over how to handle the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, voters overwhelmingly say they don’t want jobless benefits for those who lost their job due to COVID-19 to be cut.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated calls for more fiscal support Tuesday in front of the Senate Banking Committee, saying that “some form of support” for people who can’t immediately go back to work in industries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic “is likely to be appropriate.” In a recent report, the Fed said that when the supplemental $600 a week in unemployment insurance expires on July 31, “it will be difficult for many families to meet their financial commitments — rent, food, utilities, and other payments — if the economic downturn continues and the benefits are not renewed.” Voters appear to agree. 

Overall, 40 percent of registered voters said the government should increase the amount of unemployment benefits to workers who have lost their jobs in the coronavirus pandemic. An additional 35 percent said they should stay the same, while 13 percent said they should be cut.

The Morning Consult/Politico poll was conducted June 12-14 among 1,987 registered voters and has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

While Democratic lawmakers have largely agreed that the benefits should either be extended or expanded, the Trump administration has made it clear that it will, at best, push for the weekly unemployment benefit to end and provide a less substantial incentive to encourage return to work. 

The idea of expanding unemployment benefits was most popular with Democrats — with 57 percent support. Twenty-seven percent said they would like to see the benefits stay the same.

Republicans were most likely to back cutting the benefits, at 21 percent. A higher percentage — 25 percent -- said the government should increase unemployment insurance, while 42 percent said it should stay the same. 

Independents were more divided, with 36 percent saying the government should increase the benefits and that there shouldn’t be any change, respectively. Eleven percent said the benefits should decrease.

One of the issues the Trump administration and some Republican lawmakers have with the unemployment insurance is they say the amount can often exceed the amount a worker may earn at a job. Over the weekend, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said on a cable show that “almost all businesses” understand that the unemployment insurance is a “disincentive” for Americans to begin working again.

A recent Morning Consult analysis by economist John Leer, however, found little support for the idea that the cost associated with distortions in workers' incentives outweigh the benefits of shoring up households' balance sheets. According to Leer, “the totality of evidence argues that unemployed and underemployed workers receive on balance less money than they did prior to the coronavirus pandemic.” And additionally, Leer noted that weaknesses in household balance sheets pose a greater risk to the U.S. economy than the “relatively limited distortions in workers’ incentives.”

A plurality of voters (36 percent) estimated that most Americans who lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic are receiving more from unemployment insurance than their usual paycheck. Twenty-one percent said it’s about the same, and 27 percent said it’s less than usual. 

Claire Williams previously worked at Morning Consult as a reporter covering finances.

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