Are federal unemployment benefits a disincentive for some to find a job?

Posted at 5:25 PM, Dec 23, 2020

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The unemployment rate in Michigan is dropping as more people head back to work. In November, it was just under 7%.

But thousands are still filing or certifying for weekly benefits, and staffing agencies and companies are running into roadblocks when trying to fill those positions.

The maximum weekly benefit here in Michigan is only $362 dollars.

But when you add in hundreds of dollars from the federal government, there may not be much incentive for some to look for new work.

“Our field was deemed essential by MDHHS so we didn’t have to shut down,” said RJ Peters of Rockford who runs North Shore Health Services.

It’s hiring people to work one-on-one with kids at autism clinics in Ithaca and Auburn. Pay starts at $17 an hour. No experience is required besides state mandated training which they provide. Despite all that, Peters is still struggling to fill those positions especially with federal boosts in unemployment.

“I think some of it is just the pandemic and people are worried to work and be out in that environment,” he said, “but I’d have to think the extra money is playing a big role because, like I said, we’ve seen a pretty significant drop off in being able to hire people.”

According to online job site ‘Indeed’, more than 500,000 jobs are added in the U.S. every week. There are nearly 10,000 entry level positions open right now around Grand Rapids.

Like at technology company Gentex Corporation in Zeeland - best known for making auto-dimming rearview mirrors.

Positions start at more than $14 an hour and include quarterly bonuses. In the last few weeks they’ve hired more than 225 people.

“We’ve been running a very aggressive promotional program. Both social media, advertising, radio, and it takes a while to get it saturated in the market, and now we’re seeing a steady influx of people,” said Gentex Marketing and Communications Director Craig Piersma.

But there are still roughly 200 openings.

After automakers started production again this summer, sales volume and order levels dramatically increased. Now they’re trying to get creative for more hires.

Even setting up an entirely Spanish-speaking manufacturing line.

“So it’s gonna be on third shift, targeting those who don’t speak English. So, if you speak Spanish we’ll have the infrastructure in place. We’re gonna have recruiters, we’re going to have line supervisors, on boarding specialists to allow people that speak Spanish to feel comfortable getting onboarded and becoming part of team Gentex,” said Piersma.

“This is truly a one of a kind time right now,” said Axios HR Chief Client Officer Shannon Burkel.

Axios is a Grand Rapids firm matching companies with people looking for jobs. It works with about 500 clients across the state, filling positions in human resources, manufacturing, and at local event venues.

“High, high majority of the businesses that we either help with or staffing or we help with from a human resource perspective need people,” she said.

Some workers are afraid to go back, they’re fearful they’ll catch the virus and pass it onto a family member. Others may not have adequate childcare, they could be waiting for their last position to open back up, or despite applying nothing sticks.

There could also be claimants who may be taking advantage of the extra weekly federal boost in payments - like the $600 earlier this year, or the $300 in the works now. The extra money could end up being as much or more than they made before.

“I mean those benefits originally, if you look back in history, were made to just be a short-term bridge, right? To help you from point A to point B because that happens to all of us. They were never intended to be that rich or to last for that long,” said Burkel.

Shannon notices hundreds of positions remain open daily.

If you’re still looking, she says don’t let the job or title fool you. It may be the perfect time to try something new and you may be surprised how easily certain skills can be transferred.

Her best advice is to just call the company or recruiting firm directly.

“Because then you can kinda walk through your story, your experiences and your past and that’s not gonna show up on some application that you do through Indeed,” she said.

Unemployment leaders have told lawmakers that the weekly benefit of $362 has not been changed in nearly 20 years and needs to be increased.

As for those open jobs, if you’re still looking for work you can reach the companies below:

Gentex Corporation

North Shore Health Services

Axios HR

Staffing Inc.

Express Employment Services

Robert Half