Analysis: Gov. Bill Lee, Republicans exaggerate job openings in cutting unemployment insurance pay

Gov. Bill Lee speaking June 5 at the unveiling of two emergency COVID-19 wards at Nashville General Hospital.
NASHVILLE — Despite the claims of politicians who are cutting unemployment insurance pay, there are far fewer new job postings in Tennessee than there are workers who are unemployed, according to research compiled by legislative staff.
 
On May 11, Gov. Bill Lee announced that he was opting Tennessee out of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, a program that provides an additional $300 weekly payment to Americans on unemployment insurance who have lost a job through no fault of their own.
 
“We will no longer participate in federal pandemic unemployment programs because Tennesseans have access to more than 250,000 jobs in our state,” said Gov. Lee.
The “250,000 jobs” are listed on Jobs4TN.gov, but the total number he’s referencing is cumulative — with some job posts as old as six months.
A review of recent job postings within the last two weeks paints a much different picture. This morning, Senate Democratic staff performed a search, county by county, for new job postings in the last 14 days.
The results found only 54,000 new job postings in the last two weeks on Job4tn.gov, while the number of Tennesseans who are out of work is triple that at 166,700, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
 
https://miro.medium.com/max/2400/1*vO-YSSaztAfpKI3R9oGQhg@2x.jpeg
Caption: Tennessee counties with the highest unemployment rate and the number of recent job postings on Gov. Bill Lee’s Jobs4TN.gov as of May 5, 2021.
 
The governor’s claim of abundant employment opportunities becomes even more problematic when reviewing counties with the highest unemployment rate — all rural communities.
  • In Lake County, where unemployment is 8.9% or about 190 people, the number of new openings on Jobs4TN was 24.
  • In Perry County, where unemployment was 7.5% or about 285 people, the number of new openings was 12.
  • In DeKalb County, where unemployment was 6.9% or about 746 people, the number of new openings was 70.
 
In the 10 counties with the highest unemployment rate in the state, the number of people looking for work outnumbered new Jobs4TN.gov job posts 4,912 to 407 — 12 to one.
 
Gov. Lee’s decision to cut off these federal funds prematurely will hurt struggling families and it will also have harmful economic consequences for Tennessee businesses.
 
Statistics show most families spend the totality of their unemployment insurance, which pumps money into Tennessee’s economy through rent, utilities and the sale of groceries, gas and other family necessities.
 
210,000 new unemployment claims since January
Another statistic throwing cold water on Gov. Lee’s jobs exaggeration: new unemployment claims.
 
Since the pandemic began last March, nearly 1.2 million Tennesseans have filed an unemployment insurance claim — including 210,000 new claims since January.
 
More than 210,000 people have been laid off since the new year began, according to unemployment insurance claims released by the state Department of Labor.
 
On May 13, state labor officials said 8,194 people who lost their job through no fault of their own filed new claims in the previous week.
 
The number of people receiving unemployment insurance in the top 10 counties with the highest unemployment was 876 — still more than double the number of positions recently posted on Lee’s job board.
 
Republicans cut unemployment eligibility period
In the final moments of the legislative session, Republicans in the General Assembly passed a bill that will reduce Tennessee’s baseline unemployment insurance period from 26 weeks to 12 weeks — the shortest in the nation.
 
In support of the legislation, Republicans repeated the anecdotal claim that jobs were aplenty despite plenty of evidence indicating a shaky economic recovery.
 
In the Tennessee Senate, all 10 of the counties with the highest rate of unemployment are represented by Republicans.
 
The trade off some families will make to survive will ultimately make our state more insecure. Some people who were laid off from a good-paying job with good health benefits and retirement may be forced to find work at a low-paying position without benefits.
 
Some parents, who can’t afford childcare on a low wage, may not return to the economy at all.