KANSAS CITY — First-time unemployment claims edged upward last week to 1.4 million, the first uptick in more than three months. While off sharply from the peak 6.9 million claims filed in late March, the increase elevated concerns about the economic outlook. Meanwhile, essential industries including baking continue to struggle to attract enough workers to sustain operations and keep supermarket shelves filled.
This tension came to the fore last week amid the debate over whether to extend supplemental federal $600-per-week unemployment benefits. Opponents to the extension believe the benefits discourage able workers from taking jobs, which clearly remains a challenge. Supporters of the extension note that, at least for now, there are not enough jobs to go around and that high-risk workers should not be pressured to imperil their health.
Since May, the food and agriculture industry has advocated a middle ground — offering tax relief to frontline workers in the food and agriculture sector. The Ag Chain with leadership from the American Bakers Association has been working to secure bipartisan support for a payroll tax holiday to be included in the relief package currently under negotiation. Recent COVID-19 surges suggest that reopening too quickly has been counterproductive to economic prospects. Finding the right balance during this difficult time between sustaining economic activity and keeping a deadly virus from raging out of control is critical.